Why I am a Mother in the Middle

girl knightsI wanted to call myself ‘mother in the middle’ as it seemed an appropriate summary of my life now, in my mid forties. I hope I am central to my children’s lives at the moment and for some years to come and integral to the chaos that our family life brings. But beyond that, I am at a mid point in other important ways. I am the middle of three sisters, I live in the middle of the country between the family bases of Scotland and London and I am middle aged. And looming larger than anything else at the moment, I am in the middle of the generations, between children that could not be more full of life and energy and a mother who is dying.

When I was growing up and into my twenties and thirties, she was always the kind of mother who prided herself on being mistaken for ‘one of the girls’, the three daughters all born when she was in her twenties. She was always incredibly youthful looking, small and slim. She railed quietly against being one of the grown-ups and possessed instead a child-like air. Even her mannerisms suggested childhood and a wish to escape the boredom of life as an adult. Chairs always seemed slightly too big so she would either sit with her legs curled under her, or swing them like a little girl sitting on a swing. I recall family car journeys where she would race to the car to get into the back seat before me, forcing me into the role of grown up in the front seat sitting next to my father, listening to his inevitable diatribe about whatever was wrong with whichever classical music programme he had chosen to put on the radio, as she gazed out the window in the back, refusing to participate.

She was the kind of mother who got a second wind when her children grew up a bit. Having gone straight from her parents’ home to a marital home in her early twenties and, like many of her generation, been immersed almost immediately into homemaking and motherhood, she shook off the shackles at forty and blossomed as she went to university as a mature student. As a serious minded and introverted teenager, I think I was a challenge to my mother’s reinvention as she embraced a second go at teenage life herself, determined to do it right this time. Years before Ab Fab got there, she was the mother dressed in trendy outfits, urging me to ditch my embarrassing baggy clothes, get my nose out of a book and talk to the boys.

She was the kind of woman who found it challenging to accept that she was going to be a grandmother whilst still in her forties. Not for her the cosiness of ‘Nana’ or ‘Granny’ – that was for old women. Her first batch of grandchildren would call her by her first name.

Even after breast cancer first came to her in her early fifties, she came through it, apparently back to her youthful self in no time. She was not a ‘survivor’ or a ‘battler’, she just simply refused to talk about it and almost pretended it had never happened. When it came back after twelve years or so and began its slow, inexorable march through her bones, she displayed a dignity, bravery and stoicism that I would never have thought her capable of.

And most of all, there has been her trademark denial, her child like ability to refuse to acknowledge that anything bad could happen. Her refusal to ask any questions to which she may get an unpleasant answer. Her implicit faith that the doctors know what they are doing and that she will keep on taking the tablets, having the chemotherapy and doing what she is directed to do and that way she will keep on going until she’s ‘at least eighty’. Her pronouncements , whilst wincing and downing great swigs of liquid morphine, that a spot of shiatsu massage should sort out the back pain. Her tragi-comic assertions that perhaps it’s just that her bra is a bit tight that is making her breathless and in pain.

Now, at 71, she is finally and suddenly an old woman, a broken woman. She appears to have gone straight from seeming sometimes decades younger than her age, to seeming far far older. Cancer has finally taken her straight from middle youth to the physical trials of extreme old age. The destruction of her bones has given her a centegenarian’s stoop and the inability to shuffle more than a few steps. Her child like frame and short stature has become a grotesque shrunken tininess, as her vertebrae collapse to make her as small as my very small ten year old daughter. Something wrong in her head, no one knows quite what, means that one of her eyes will no longer open. The hair that she experimented with so often – no one had more hair styles in her time than my mother – is now an odd texture, tufty in its post chemotherapy regrowth. Her body is contorted with pain and her body labours to breathe properly, as cancer creeps through her lungs too. My father feeds her liquid morphine on a spoon, carefully tucking a tea towel under her chin to catch any drips and she opens her mouth like a baby sparrow to take it. I go to see if she is sleeping and I do not see my mother lying in the bed; there is instead a (mis)shape under the duvet, still on her side as she is unable any more to lie on her deformed back.

The doctors that she has put so much faith in have finally told her what others have seen for many months – that they have nothing left to offer her. The miracles of modern medicine have given her many extra years but they have reached the end of the line. We are told by my tearful father when visiting to mark my mother’s seventy first birthday this month. I talk to her later that day and she looks me straight in the eye and says that she was shocked, she had expected some new treatment to try to give her years not months or weeks, but that the truth is a relief, that she does not want to go on like this. With one eye in its permanently shut position and with her frame reduced to skin and bone, her one good eye shines enormous and blue, unflinching as she stares into my eyes and talks to me honestly, adult to adult.

I ask my parents, uselessly, what I can do to make this easier for them. They tell me that what I must do is nurture my family and bring up ‘the replacements’ for their generation. So this is what I will try to do.



Filed under parenting

19 responses to “Why I am a Mother in the Middle

  1. Wonderfully written post. So accurate about what cancer can do to vibrant wonderful people. And often so amazing the fight that people make to it.

    We lost our mum to cancer (secondary breast, inoperable brand tumour, and then in lungs) last year – diagnosed in March and died in December. It’s so true how it can be such a sudden slide and ageing process. A horrible disease, and I hope you and your family find peace in her last days.

  2. WOW that just left me in tears. So powerful and so beautiful written. I couldn’t pull away just to regain my emotions. So sorry for your mothers pain but amazed at the woman she has been for so long. Wow I bet that adult to adult talk was amazing and long waited for. Its weird to look at our parents and think of ourselves no matter what age as adults too and think we are all adults together now. Thank you so much for linking up to Share With Me. I am sending huge hugs and support to you in this emotion tough time in life. #sharewithme

  3. So sorry to hear about your mum. I can’t begin to imagine how hard this is for all of you to cope with. Thank you for having the courage to write this post and share it with us. Thinking of you at this difficult time x

  4. suzanne3childrenandit

    What a very moving and beautifully written post. Your mother sounds like an fascinating lady who has led a wonderful (if too brief) life. I hope that her last few days and weeks are a blessing to you all and that main is minimal for her. Such a tough road to walk.

  5. suzanne3childrenandit


  6. It brought a lump to my throat too, wishing you and your family all the very best x

  7. I dont know what to say but I really wanted to hug my mother after reading this. Only she is so far and not here. I miss her so much. #sharewithme

  8. Cancer is so cruel, your mother sounds like an amazing woman. I’m a Mother in the Middle too…. for similar varied reasons. A very good name indeed! I really hope your mother doesn’t suffer too much. Massive hugs.
    Thanks for linking #PoCoLo

  9. Caroline (Becoming a SAHM)

    Beautiful post and so very moving. A lovely tribute to your mother… brought tears to my eyes! xx #familyfriday

  10. This is such a beautiful post. I read it in the week and wasn’t able to comment for some reason. Thank you so much for linking this to #FamilyFriday.

  11. What a beautiful amazing post. My heart goes out to you and your family and I hope that your mother does not have too much more pain and finds some peace. #FamilyFriday

  12. Such a beautiful post. I’m sorry your family is going through this. Cancer is such a cruel illness, for everyone. #FamilyFriday

  13. This was heartbreaking to read, but also a touching tribute in the way you have made her personality so vivid with your words. I’m sorry to hear that you, your family and your mother have been going through this. I wish you all the best. #pocolo

  14. So sorry to read this, but a beautifully written post that really does justice to your mum. She sounds like an amazing and unique woman who obviously enjoyed life and lived it to the full. It’s terrible that cancer can take that away and transform someone who is still relatively young so quickly.
    The ‘mum in the middle’ phase is a tough one and I hope mine is still a few years off. My mum went through it 10 or 15 years ago – juggling two adult kids and a teenage daughter, plus her parents and mother-in-law and the first grandchildren.
    Here’s hoping your mum’s last few months or weeks are peaceful ones. x

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