‘I don’t want this to be over.’
That’s how I used to think during the last couple of days of a holiday. Despite the warm sun on my face and the family time and the choice of ice cream flavours, I’d be disappointed that we had only two days left. And I’d mope a little bit. Mentally, my holiday was over.
Our minds are strange like that, like they’re programmed to dwell in the past or worry about the future. It shouldn’t actually be hard work to focus all of your attention and energy on the task at hand. To be fully present in the moment.
But all this talk about mindfulness and the benefits of being present feels relatively recent, and for a while when I practised it, I was a new woman.
If I was sitting on the floor playing Monopoly with the girls, I was sitting on the floor enjoying a game of Monopoly with the girls. I wasn’t worrying about the dishes in the sink. The fact that it was dinner time and I didn’t yet know what we were having. That we were probably not going to finish that game before school started the next day if Elsie didn’t hurry up and have her turn.
But a couple of months ago, something completely and unspeakably crap happened.
And it tested my practice of mindfulness.
My dear, fit, healthy mum had a sudden seizure. In hospital they found that the seizure was caused by swelling around a tumour on her brain.
They operated. We waited.
Fortunately it was in an area of her brain where 95 per cent of it could be safely removed.
‘The operation went well. We’ll have the histology results in four days,’ the surgeon told us. Because we hadn’t already had the most anxious wait.
I googled everything I could about brain tumours and held hope that all would be okay and that it wouldn’t be the nastiest, most aggressive, most malignant and most common type of tumour.
‘What a nuisance,’ Mum said when the surgeon told us.
A nuisance. That was a whole lot more repeatable than anything I came up with. And an example of the gracious woman my mum was.
And as it turned out, the tumour was not responsive to the radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatments.
The strange part is, whether we like it or not, death comes to all of us. It’s inevitable.
But because we don’t know exactly when, it’s easy to kind of ignore the fact.
We live like we’re not going to die.
We take things for granted.We get up in the morning and complain because the dog barked during the night. We’re disappointed that the bananas in the fruit bowl are overripe or frustrated that a kid is taking too long to roll the dice.
Then one of the most important people in my life was given a gloomy prognosis.
And the news that the very one thing in this world that is guaranteed to happen, is going to happen, came as a total shock.
For the next little while, it was hard to practice mindfulness. To stay in the moment without worrying about the future.
Some days it was impossible. Maeve asked me one day why I was crying. I told her that I was sad about Nanna.
‘She’s not dead yet,’ Maeve said.
It took that and Anthony helping me to get out of bed and shooing me out the door to my parents’ house to remind me that my mum was still with us.
Sadly, though, that’s no longer the case.
The average survival time after treatment for this type of tumour is two years. We got three months.
So I’m just going to say it straight out.
Be mindful of the shortness of life.
Be aware that you’ll never get this very moment back. This very beautiful moment of life.
Create moments that you love.
Be kind. Compassionate. Loving.
Be grateful for every second of every day you get to spend with the people you love.
And tell them you love them.
Thank your parents.
Thank your mum for teaching you how to listen. How to be considerate.
How to love and respect your spouse. For welcoming your spouse and your children with love and pride. How to put family first.
Thank her for teaching you how to parent. For teaching you right from wrong. For supporting and encouraging and comforting you.
Thank her for her time. It’s an expression of her love.
Thank her for giving you all of the things she gave you, and for teaching you how to find the rest.
Thank your mum for teaching you that it isn’t what we have in life, but who we have in our life that matters most.
And if it wasn’t or isn’t your mum who was your world, thank whoever it was or is. And if you’ve got kids, teach them.
My brothers and I will be forever grateful to our caring, gentle and patient Dad, who has always provided a calm and comfortable life for us and did so for my Mum right through to the end.
‘Perhaps our eyes need to be washed by our tears once in a while, so that we can see life with a clearer view again.’ Alex Tan