If I am honest with myself I never thought that when I got to this stage in my life I would be learning so many big lessons. Of course we learn something every day but I am still surprised how things can happen so unexpectedly to change your life forever. My cancer diagnosis was certainly the biggest life changer I have had, but my recent experiences have come very close to that. When I wrote my New Year post, optimism was flowing through my veins! Everything in my life was looking positive, and as the weeks progressed things were getting better and better. Every day recently was spent having very positive meetings, with exciting things happening. A couple of weeks ago on the Friday night I was a guest speaker in London at a lovely ‘black tie’ event which went very well. Sue and I had a fabulous time and the presentation was well received. On the Saturday morning I was due to go to a friends 80th birthday lunch, and I was in the mood of celebration. Then the call came that changed all of that in an instant, “Chris, you must come now, I think your Mum is dead!”
I drove to my Mums flat in my party clothes, to be greeted by her neighbour who had found her. Somehow she had collapsed and died. Her health had been unreliable but heart and blood tests were normal for someone of 83. I was then dealing with police, ambulance people, coroners, funeral directors and some family members, casualties of years of bitterness. All of the memories came flooding back, as I had to revisit old ‘wounds,’ something that I’m sure all of us never really thought about. The positive stuff went right to the back, as I struggled with funeral arrangements and dealing with contrasting characters within the family. It has been very difficult to focus on anything but the funeral, which took place yesterday after an incredibly gruelling fortnight, both physically and emotionally.
Of course it was going to happen one day, death is a fact of life, but my mum was very strong and has survived a lot in her life, including breast cancer, so there appeared to me no logical reason why this happened. My memory is now full of the memories of my mum on the floor, and thinking about the next few weeks. We both never thought that I would be arranging her funeral, as after my own cancer experience, it was looking much more likely that she would be attending mine. I never felt that I would have another event that shocked me as my own diagnosis did, but this has. I think one of the reasons is the dramatic way your life can turn in an instant.
“Live your life as if each day was your last.” If I had a penny for every time I have heard that, I would be a wealthy man. It sounds great in principle but very difficult to do. Not only do we have our own life to live but we are also a part of other peoples lives too. We must live within certain boundaries and consider others. I am a grandfather father brother, son, uncle, friend, colleague, husband and therefore have a variety of roles to fulfil. When I have analysed my own life, there really is only a small part that I can live without any thought for others. I know that if I lived every day if it were my last it certainly wouldn’t include many of the things I do daily!
Having taken eight years to get to a good place, I felt that I had overcome most emotional hurdles, but what has happened is a wake up call for me. A lot of my old confidence had returned and I thought that the worst parts of my life were behind me. Was I being naïve and was my mind finally choosing to see the positives above the negatives? Those of us affected by cancer are used to living life on the emotional rollercoaster, but I was suddenly thrown back into a dark place when I least expected it.
After two weeks of physical and emotional nightmares Mum’s funeral came together yesterday, and the family cracks were papered over for the day. It was a lovely sunny day and a wonderful service and hopefully we did Mum proud! Ironically I have so much positive stuff waiting for me now with my work, with exciting things that I have had to postpone for a while. Life goes on, as these events may happen to us, but for everyone else, life is normal. Things move so quickly these days, already those terrible weeks are behind me, but the memories will be very difficult to live with. They say time is a healer, which in many cases is true, though my own cancer diagnosis still feels like yesterday.
For the next few months I will be dealing with the usual loose ends after a parents death, and continuing with my support work. My family and friends supporting me with this work has helped me incredibly and given me such a positive focus, keeping me out of the shadows and in the sunshine for most of the time. Life for all of us is unpredictable, maybe we need the bad times to truly appreciate the good ones? ‘Nothing lasts forever,’ which is also true, and a good thing at certain stages in your life. The fact that we don’t know what life will bring us tomorrow is a really good thing, and I have enjoyed living like that for most of my life, but the last few weeks have certainly proved that you must really appreciate each good moment and never take anyone or anything for granted!
I would like to dedicate this post to my Mum, June Mary Lewis 14/06/32 – 27/02/16 RIP