In Twelve Years In and Out of Hospital, Mum Sat in the Waiting Room Playing Word Games to Occupy Her Mind
By Jo Withers
To some it was just a job, they didn’t realise their conversations mattered more than medication. Martha, from the night shift, I will always remember. She’d play cards with me at midnight when I couldn’t settle my anarchic mind, swop my breakfast for ice cream if I won. She talked to me about the future without mentioning my past, said I reminded her of herself during her college years, made me feel that things could change, that there were always choices.
When I came home, everything was always fresh, Mum had put clean linen on the bed and bought all my favourite foods. For a while I could hide away and find pleasure in small things, we’d sit watching trashy T.V. shows together painting our nails. Somehow it was never enough, temptation was always nagging. Within weeks I’d be ringing old friends, waiting until she fell asleep, rummaging through her handbag to steal her last dollar, sneaking out the house to feed my growing habit.
Eventually, I’d come home. Mum always took me back. She’d bathe me, get me into bed and coax me to eat something. I’d usually refuse, I felt so low I didn’t deserve food. I liked to feel my body’s hunger, I refused to appease its emptiness. In some way I felt not eating was atoning for the burden I placed on everyone. But Mum would persist, bringing bowls of hot soup, smashing fruit into smoothies. Just swallow a little she begged, you don’t even have to chew, just a little to keep you going, please keep going.
She told me every day that she loved me, that she was proud of me for trying, she never doubted that one day I would get better. Her faith infuriated me, I wanted her to hate me too to make it easier, I wanted to give up, I wanted a reason to stop fighting.
Then Mum got sick. It was such a shock to see her struggling. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t my biggest problem. I was outside her pain, no longer her main concern. I had no control. I’d never been so lost and scared and this time I couldn’t drink the pain away.
We went through the worst of it together. Mum fought the bone aching pain of chemo while I sat shaking and sweating from withdrawal. It was my turn to force her to eat, to persuade her to swallow every tiny mouthful. She needed help to get out of bed, help to get dressed, help to remember laughter. By her last treatment, the tumour had shrunk two centimetres and I hadn’t been high in eight weeks.
It still hurts every day; night times are worst. I break it down, get through minute by minute, hour by hour. But, I’m in recovery and Mum is getting stronger and we’re grateful. We don’t think about tomorrow, each moment is enough.
This piece was shortlisted in the 2021 mindshare Awards, presented by mindshare, Writers SA, Access2Arts, and the Mental Health Coalition of South Australia. More info here.