“Cheer up love… it might never happen!” is a common cat-call a woman might be subjected to (almost always by a man) should she fail to wear an agreeable facial expression when out of doors.
Vagenda magazine does a pretty good job of explaining just how annoying this is, and I hated it so much I (ironically) named my blog after it.
I’m not always cheery, I have what I consider to be a fairly normal range of emotions, but I reserve the right not to be cheerful on demand.
While it might be true that many things we ruminate on allow our anxiety to grow out of all proportion, there are times where we are dealing with something grave. Something painful or difficult and inevitable – specifically something bad that will happen – but in its own way that’s ok too.
Life’s not fair!
My mum, Carol Breen, passed away on 22nd June this year. She waited until we’d broken our round-the-clock vigil to finally ‘do one’. She’d also managed it through the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, though I don’t imagine that she was aware of that fact at the time.
One of the statements my mum used to come out with, far too often for my comfort, was “Life’s not fair”. I was not brought up with an expectation that life is or should be fair, which at times I found rather sad.
Around a year ago mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Even before a full prognosis had been delivered, she was acutely aware of the fact she might have only a short time left.
She was deeply private about her diagnosis and prognosis, and like most things in life chose to deal with the details alone.
In early days of her illness, we had hope. We researched different treatments and looked for hospitals with expertise in treating this difficult to treat cancer.
Chemo and hoping for a ‘cure’
Mum started chemo last November, it had a terrible effect her causing severe nausea and weight loss – she used to boast about how she now weighed less than me!
In January, mum decided to try some experimental surgery. The site of her tumour was such that conventional surgery was not ‘viable’, but this treatment may have reduced the size of the growth that it would buy mum valuable months or even years.
Soon after the operation it became apparent that in mum’s case it had not been successful. This is something that we accepted as part and parcel of a treatment that was in its infancy and not extensively tried and tested.
Watching the days go by
From February this year, mum’s health took a nosedive. Fortunately my brother, Ellis, had been able to take some time out to be there for her in her own home – for this I am truly grateful to him.
She was too sick to continue with chemo and pain relief took over as the main focus of managing the effects of the cancer. She was taken into a hospice to have this stabilised but was glad to be back in her own home three weeks later.
The following weeks seemed to take on a timescale of their own…
The slowness of watching a woman holding on to life, contrasted with the rapidly revolving door carrying, doctors, nurses, carers, friends and neighbours into the home.
Beauty beyond the body
One thing we were adamant that mum would do before she passed away was to visit her exhibition which was part of Norwich & Norfolk Open Studios (along with fellow artists Denise Wingrove and Joan Sandford-Cook).
Ellis and I couldn’t persuade her to go to the opening weekend. Despite this Denise and Joan sold over £150 of mum’s jewellery and photographs.
The next weekend we took an uncompromising approach – we told mum she HAD TO get ready for the exhibition. Our usually stubborn mother allowed herself to be cajoled into the trip.
We are thankful for the help of friends Carole and Bruce and their delightful doggies Lulu and Leo in making this happen.
In the following weeks, mum began to let go as her health deteriorated. I consider myself very lucky to have spent time with her as she edged closer to death. Within three weeks she had passed away.
Carol Breen – a lasting legacy
We were pleased that so many of mum’s friends could come to celebrate her life in they was she would’ve wish – with wine, art, flowers and laughs.
Her digital photography was really something. You can view much of her wonderful work on Flickr – but she was also a talented silversmith, potter and sculptor.
She was also huge reader and we made sure that her precious collection of art books were given to artist friends in return for donations to two local charities.
The last word…
I miss my mother terribly, even the times when she told me that life wasn’t fair!
I hope that I have inherited some of her creativity and resourcefulness, and I am blessed that I will soon be able to decorate my own home with many of her artworks.
Thanks to everyone who cared about and for Carol, I’m not going to name names because you know who you are.
And. To anyone, anywhere who utters the words “Cheer up love, it might never happen!” to a woman going about her own business, I’d like to extend a swiftly delivered two fingers on behalf of my mother!
It feels slightly wrong to start a blog entry about my grandmother passing away with my usual “My Week In Happy” prefix, but at 90 years old Muriel Breen did have a long and happy life. I am grateful that she continued to enjoy her interests into later life, that she made friends easily and had a kind heart.
She was the mother of my mother Carol, wife of my late grandfather Gerard Breen, and grandmother to myself and my brother Ellis – we called her ‘Granny’. She was a dear friend and confidante to my mother through thick and thin.
Muriel was a talented painter and pastel artist well into her eighties, loved the ballet and saw the funny side in everyday things.
She had an amazing spirit and was extremely independent, living in her own home until she passed away. This was made possible with the care of my mother, who was with Granny until the very end.
In the last five years of her life Muriel became increasingly frail and struggled with the limitations of her ageing body. The biggest blow was when stomach problems left her only able to eat foods that were pureed or disintegrated easily in the stomach.
She really missed being able to have the foods that she loved and preparing something palatable became a focus of each day. It became something of an obsession and even my mother’s patience was tested after hearing about Granny’s special trifle recipe for what must have felt like the millionth time!
I asked my brother to write something in memory of Granny and this is what he said.
My memories of Granny, by Ellis
She was always upbeat, positive, loving and humorous. She loved to talk endlessly but always had time to listen to anyone as well. My first memories of Granny were formed when I visited her home with Granddad. She had a poodle who was as loving and vivacious as her owner.
Later she moved to be closer to Mum and, after Granddad passed away, enthusiastically resumed one of her great passions: ballroom dancing. I was always impressed by her energy and love of life and for some time she had a very lively social life which many of the younger generation would envy.
I had talked a little to her about her time before my birth in recent years, but in some visits over this last Christmas, despite a failing memory, she elucidated with great clarity on many parts of this. Her love of ballroom dancing dated back to the WWII era, and she enjoyed any opportunity to socialise.
She had done very well at school, and had wanted to continue her education, but opportunities for women to do so after the war were severely limited. Instead, after settling down with Granddad, and looking after Mum in her early years, she ran a small shop and became a well-loved member of the community.
She was a keen reader all her life, and loved culture of all kinds – a passion which she passed on to the rest of the family.
The times of her youth were tougher, and more socially conservative in many ways, but her pragmatic and positive spirit seems to have got her through.
She always looked on the bright side even in the last few difficult years. Probably my fondest memory of her was seeing her delighted as I, my sister and Granddad kicked a football around in the park. She always took the greatest pleasure in seeing others enjoying themselves.