Fidelma Cook

LET’S skim over the last three weeks, shall we? All we need to know is that – hurrah – the cancer is still in remission thanks to the immunotherapy but the treatment and side effects are brutal on my body. Hence I’m in and out of here in a cycle of desperation.

The discussions with the consultants are beginning. Do we stop the treatment or try a little longer? Yes, says my son. Find a new treatment? Go back on chemo? Yes, says my son. This afternoon’s conversation ended in an explosion of rage on both sides and once more I’m thinking of the quality of the life left not the quantity.

I want to take back control of my life.

So you get some of the picture. Enough said.

At least I get a laugh here...sort of.

Slumbering in the semi-darkness the other morning, my door opened and a new and bloody cheery nurse boomed: "Good morning, sir."

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I patted the other side of the bed. Nope, no hunk had joined my solitude during the night – she was addressing bald me. Merde.

She made it worse by nodding away at me, smiling as her mortified colleague hissed "Madame. Madame."

After several FFS…I grabbed my ski beanie and have slept in it ever since.

Later that day she asked if I had children. A son. Oh, she said – is he retired?

He’s old do you think I bloody am?

I got my own back later. She stupidly asked me how old I thought her children were.

I pretended to study her face, covered by the mask – she was probably in her 40s – "Erm, 50, 60?"


I did later tell her I was joking, as I’m trying to think only good thoughts at the moment. God it’s hard after a lifetime of not.

I deliberately only catch glimpses of myself scrunched in a corner of FaceTime – most of me missing. And the only person who smiles and blows kisses at me is my 15-month old granddaughter, the youngest, who used to just stare solemnly at me.

One day I had neither wig nor beanie to hand when she suddenly appeared on screen.

Oh God, I’ll traumatise her for life, I thought.

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Far from it – she smiled, she laughed, blew kisses, even kissed the screen. Then it hit me. She saw a round-faced solemn mirror image except she had more hair than me.

There was someone else like her in this world – she was not alone. It was a strangely moving moment and for the first time in a long time I was not alone either.

I’ve never met this child beyond a screen – never stared deep into her eyes looking for a connection beyond the generations.

Now I sense no need to. We know each other in a deeper way – a way I wouldn’t have chosen but a way nonetheless.

Sadly, we’ll never know the joy of running hand in hand on a beach collecting shells. I’ll never put her up on her first pony; never feel a podgy little arm steal around my neck to cling tight in perfect confidence.

But that’s life for many of us. And we’re dependent on others telling our stories and histories and hope they’ll be kind and generously truthful with their memories for we’re capable of unwitting distortion.

Although I was only three months older than my granddaughter when my father died and have no memories of him at all, I still miss his presence – still miss what might have been, what I might have been with that security – or rather who.

There is no need to polish an image – the truth can be told warts and all but always remember joy, laughter not just moments of anger and the tragedy of death that came way too soon.

For these are the memories a child will treasure and wonder over all of its life and woe to those who crush them.

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For years I conjured up colourful stories to explain his absence.

Death was not enough to understand it. It was too enormous to be contained. In the end, a grave, a headstone and my mother’s pension book was the route she took for me to face the ordinary, extraordinary truth that young men barely 29 years old can die horribly painful deaths. The mundanity of dying.

So tell my grandchildren I liked to dance, to drink wine, to party, to read, to imagine and write stories. I liked to dress up houses, caress my books, adore my dogs, fight with their father but always love him.

But not just yet. Baldy is still in the building blowing kisses to a soul mate.