Apr 25, 2018

Irreplaceable You

It was the Saturday of the Labour Day long weekend. The air was warm and the Melbourne sun was gracing us with her presence…not that I had any plans to take advantage of it.

My housemate was away and I had a big, boozy event planned for Sunday so I was bunking down for a strenuous day of Netflix and UberEats. Pants optional.

I’d just finished watching Irreplaceable You (you know, because nothing says “Happy Long Weekend!” like a gut wrenching movie about cancer), flipping between apps on my phone I quickly ordered some lunch and checked my emails.

There was one from my Dad, subject line: Mum.

What happened next feels like a bad dream. Or a scene from a sad movie I watched a while ago. It’s blurry around the edges and the more I try to think back to it, the further it slips away.

Certain words jump out. As if they were in bold, or being shouted at me. “Trouble.” “Nurse.” “Appetite.” “Shutting down“. “Palliative“. “Inevitable“. “Strong.”

My breathing was suddenly shallow and my mind racing a thousand miles an hour. There was a dull ringing in my ears. Wait. What was I reading?

I scrolled back up and started from the top.

“I had trouble giving her a third of her meal.”

“Nursing manager confirmed her lack of appetite.”

“After sixteen years, her body has had enough and is shutting down.”

“A palliative team be formed.”

“Knowing that this was inevitable doesn’t make it any easier to accept.”

“Be strong.”

Wait. Is he telling me my mum is dying?

I feel a sudden surge of vomit race up my throat and I stumble towards my balcony door, fumbling to unlock it. I throw myself towards the balcony, doubling over the bannister. The whole world is spinning and I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Why can’t I breathe?

I look down to my apartment carpark and stare at the concrete. What is happening? This can’t be happening. What did I just read?

I turn back around and grab my phone off the couch, scrolling back through the email again. Reading it a third. Fourth. Fifth time.

I struggle to take a proper breath. The oxygen seems to get caught up in my rib cage. I can’t breathe.  I can’t fucking breathe.

I call my Dad. He picks up almost instantly, as if he was holding the phone, expecting me.

What had been a rambling silent commentary in my head was now bubbling away and out of my mouth, first in-between sobs and then at the top of my lungs.


The hysteria is climbing. I’m pacing around my apartment with tears rolling down my face, hiccuping, screaming at my poor Dad. It’s not his fault. He’s just the messenger. He wanted to make sure my brothers and I got all the facts. We knew this day was coming. He’s doing the best he can. His heart is breaking too.

But I’m alone. I am alone the day I find out my mother is dying.

I let out a primal scream and slide down the side of my oven. I’m now in a heap on the floor of my kitchen, sobbing into the phone.

I’m not ready. I’m not ready. I’m not ready.

You would think, having spent all of my adult life watching my beautiful mother slowly whither away at the hands of this insiduous, thieving disease that I would be more than ready for this moment.

That I would have been mentally prepared… begging for it to come even. And in theory, I have. It has been my toughest test standing by and watching my mum turn from a bright, feisty, loving woman into a hollow, vacant vegetable. A shell of a human being. Frail and thin and stuck in this fucking hell of a purgatory between life and death. Not able to live her life but not able to be free of it either. Keeping all of us, especially my darling dad, hostage to the slow moving shit-show that is early onset Alzheimer’s.

I can’t remember the last time she spoke, or what she said. I can’t remember the last time she hugged me. Or looked directly into my eyes. Or laughed. I can’t remember what her voice sounds like. Or what she smells like, when she doesn’t smell of hospital and disinfectant and urine.

Did she prefer red or white wine? She loved birds didn’t she? Wait…no. She was scared of them. What did she think when she laid eyes on Dad for the first time? How did she feel when she found out she was pregnant with me? Is she proud of me? Does she miss me?

I don’t know. I can’t remember. And I can’t ask her. And pretty soon I won’t even be able to hold her.

I thought this was what I wanted. I thought this was what we had wished for years ago.

But I’m not ready.

We thank Tully for allowing us to share her personal story & for opening her heart to help others in a similar position.

Originally published on Tully Smyth’s blog – Young Blood Runs Wild.

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