It was my sister’s birthday last week, and per custom we went out for dinner on Saturday night to celebrate. We went to an Italian restaurant in Camberwell, on a night notable for other things.
Mum was not good. She is convinced her time is nigh, and can’t stop telling everyone. This is a situation exacerbated when she has a few drinks. It’s not what we want to hear. It may be true – she continues to decline – but there are times we want to get away from that and besides, no-one really knows what’s going to happen. On Saturday I got exasperated. Mum would interrupt conversations between others with her dire predictions and then get upset when we didn’t react as she hoped. The kids have known all along what the situation is, but still I think it’s unhealthy for them to be made to confront it so starkly. Besides, it was my sister’s birthday, a time, supposedly, of celebration. Can’t we just take a break for a while?
I never have a conversation with mum these days without the major part of the conversation being about her health. The polite ‘how are you?’ is now responded to fully and in detail. I understand and I’m by no means complaining. It’s just that sometimes you need a break from it. I know that’s impossible for mum, but for us, with our lives to live, our own challenges and issues to deal with, it’s necessary. What’s happening with mum is a big part of my life right now, but it’s not all of it. I have a lot of other things I must deal with, and many more challenges than I ever let on here. I cope well, I manage, but still it’s nice sometimes just to let it slide away and live in the moment.
I don’t like to write these things, but I’m committed to being up-front here. I don’t blame mum in any way, and the truth is that she’s been pretty strong and matter of fact, almost philosophical, about her situation. I can’t imagine what it must feel like. Still, mum has always erred to the melodramatic, and there are times those tendencies feel very foreign. I know, she’s searching for attention and sympathy, and I know it must feel isolating sometimes to have a death sentence slowing playing out. But enough already, we know, let us breathe a little, lets have some fun, can we not put it behind us for just a little while? So in the face of her incessant and long-winded negativity on Saturday night I became exasperated, and resorted eventually to calling her bluff. Okay then, you’re going to die soon? When? Should we have a book on it? I’d had enough. The next day, sober, mum said nothing more on it, and nor did I. It’s hard enough dealing with the harsh reality without making more of it.
The second thing that happened concerned the kids. Waiting for them to arrive I had checked in on Facebook, including the two boys. At some point I asked my sister how long since she had heard from her ex, the father of the kids. “About 6 months”, she said. “And the kids?” She shrugged her shoulders. “About 3?” A moment later I glanced at my phone to see the man himself had responded to my post from way off in the UK. “Tell the kids to contact their father will you?” It seemed strange after our conversation. I showed my sister. She raised an eyebrow. And then I passed on the message – though of course there’s been no reason why he can’t have contacted them himself.
Finally my niece, Schae. She is 4 years old, a pretty, smart and strong willed girl. I’m her favourite. She’s always loved her ‘Buppa’, as they all call me, but I wonder if my place in her life has not become magnified since her father left. I’m the only male influence in her life, and that of the boys. I’m happy to be whatever they want me to be – I love them all dearly. On Saturday she was all over me, wanting to show me things, or talk to me, crawling up onto my knee at the dinner table whenever she could. She was excited too because she had a gift for me.
A couple of weeks ago at kinder the kids had done something special for Father’s Day. They had made gifts for their father, or else, as in my case, some other dear male figure in their life. Schae had had painted a white t-shirt for me she was thrilled to give. A rainbow shaped arc of colours – red and purple, green, yellow, blue and orange – curved across the shirt, and the inscription, written by the kinder teacher, read: “I love Buppa. I make him happy. He makes me happy too. Schae.”
That’s family life. The dramas, the tribulations, and ultimately the love. Hard to take sometimes maybe, but impossible to live without.