Forewarning: Writing a story like this was extremely confronting. I never expected this experience to involve such reflexivity and self-reflexivity. This story may involve some triggers, be weary when reading. Thank you for taking the time to read this story.
From when I was young, my family had always been a support network which I could turn to for whenever I needed help. My father being the rock which held me down to the real world, always talking sense into me, and my mother, the wind beneath my wings, telling me to fly towards the dreams which I strived for.
Two years ago my dad felt a strong pain coming from the back of his head. In the middle of the night, my mum took him to hospital, had scans done and realised that he had a brain tumour at the front of his head. (Funnily enough the headache and the tumour had no correlation).
I will never forget hearing my grandparents crying loudly over the phone, so much so I could hear their sobbing in my sleep. Putting their words together in my half awake state, I stood up next to my door and listened. Before I knew it, tears were streaming down my face, and my mums phone number was already half dialled in.
This event effected my family greatly. I was in my final year of high school, my dad was moving his mechanical business, we were planning on building a new house and my sister was struggling at school with mental health problems.
You would think that having this experience would bring us closer together, however it drove me to contemplate about death and the loss of my father too much. So much so that I would distract myself with my social life and alcohol.
I love the book Paper Towns. John Green employs the metaphor of strings holding a person together. At this point our whole family was a mess of strings on the floor, broken, split, frayed and spread across a similarly coloured carpet. These strings would be almost impossible to put back together.
I wanted to start my post with that story to provide some context to the exercise I would do with my mum.
Two years later and my dad is about to go for his second yearly check up to make sure that the tumour hasn’t returned in any state. However, he now has recently experienced another problem. A lump has appeared on his left knee.
My father, as positive as he tries to be, is a pessimist at heart. He always thinks of the worst. What it could possibly be, how it will affect him and worst of all, if this is what will kill him. He would call himself ‘cautious’ as I describe him.
My mother is the opposite. She is an optimist to the extreme. My mother single handedly has been able to reassemble the strings in our family’s life, and knotted them, tightly.
So, knowing this about my mother I asked her to tell me her feelings about the coming weeks of my fathers testing. The results, for me, were quite confronting.
“Every year in July when he has to go back to the specialists for a check up is quite hard. I am a very positive person and I believe that you are never given more than you can handle. In our family I believe that it is my job to be the strong one. I make sure that I am as positive as I can be, I refuse to believe that anything else will go wrong. I see how much stronger he is, and how much better his attitude is. Of course in the back of my mind I am hopeful and also a bit anxious (oh my god what if it isn’t as good as what I think, what do we do. How do I put a positive spin on it, and make him see the bright side). But I know, no matter what happens, we will get through it together.“
Before I asked this of my mum, I wrote a piece about how I felt about my dad, in his situation, at the moment.
My father is quite a protective person. When I say quite, I mean extremely protective. He set up a tracking device in my phone, followed me halfway to Perisher in his car while I could see him on the bus and wont let me basically out of his sight. The only time I ever see him being vulnerable is when he is being tested or going to the doctors. It’s like he shuts down, his head is always drooped, face always sagging and is not his usual bubbly self. It’s a little bit terrifying. I know Dad has a mild depression. I know he gets triggered by even the thought of another brain tumour appearing. It’s confronting seeing a man who you have known as your protector in life to appear so weak. No matter what happens, he will always have his family with him. Whenever he sees something threatening on TV he always says, ‘They can do what ever they want to me, but if someone touches my family, they’re gone’. Dad, its our turn to protect you.
The phrase “no matter what happens… we will get through it together” was used by both of us. I believe this is due our common value of kinship and positivity. In this way, our values have been translated into words, these words relating to our own experiences and conveying our deepest feelings.
I can now see how my mothers own values have been morphed into my own. How she always looks on the bright side, always pushes me to do my best and be an individual in the world. I believe my mother has instilled lasting values in me which I will continue to exert and become comfortable with.
It is also interesting to note how I wrote about my father being a protective force in the family, then falling to ruin and my mother wrote this about herself. The parallels of my mothers and fathers strength deteriorating but never ceasing to exist is an interesting phenomena in itself.
This exercise has taught me that the words an individual uses create a different individual framework for each person and the values which they uphold in life. These values then drive decisions and an individuals past experiences are used to assist in making choices based on these values. For my mum, it is obvious. Positivity is a value which she never ceases to uphold. Myself in this situation would be upholding the value of kinship.
With this in mind, I made a Lumen 5 video to highlight words which she used that created a story, with positivity as the value being explored.
It is interesting how the same story with different words used, from different perspectives can have such a profound effect on someone. The emphasis on the positivity of my mothers words was shocking when she looked back on them. She asked “Who said this.”
She disbelieved herself the words which came from her own mouth. Mum didn’t think she was a protective person. She didn’t think of herself as strong, as a guardian for our family. She did not believe she was this positive. It is insightful that a person can say these things about themselves, using these powerful words as their tools, yet disbelieve that they concocted them.
Values from our past experiences definitely influence our future decisions and lifestyles, from my own perspective, I just see my mum as mum. The person I can turn to when sad and can turn away with a smile on my face. Her warm hugs fill me with energy and her laugh is infectious. Positivity. Definitely a word which resonates with my mother.
The first time I ever saw my mum ooze positivity was when her father died. Again, she was the protector, she was the one who would be positive. The worst part is, I think that she was the most broken. I believe that death brings out the best in us. Even the thought of death can bring out the best in people. It is a reminder to live with no regrets and to live passionately and positively, something my mum always strives to achieve. Again, a value which I have received from my mothers ideologies.
It is surprising how such a horrid situation could spawn such an interestingly positive outcome and sequence of events. Now all we can hope for is these tests to be clear. But, no matter what happens, we’ll all way be there for each other. Together.
Afterword: Upon writing this story and reading through what my mother had said after I had wrote it down, I never thought I would become so affected. People’s words mean a lot in the context that they are said in, but more so by the person they are said by. Words are an extension of an individuals values, thoughts, ideologies and sometimes, deepest feelings and emotions.
I may write more on this topic later. More about my family life. However, I feel as though I should try and reattach some strings myself and begin to knot them as my mum has taught me. Tightly.
This is incredible, Kris and I’m so glad you took such a personal angle this week. Writing about my own family is something I’ve somewhat avoided, because (a) it’s really, really difficult to write about hard times for an audience, and (b) my mum and my grandad read my blog #awkward. You’ve really inspired me though, so maybe next week! Your video in particular resonated with me; my mother is also the glue in my family and without her I don’t know where myself or any of my siblings would be.
Really powerful content and very beautifully written as always.
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It was definitely an experience writing it haha, thanks so much for your feedback. Means a lot to me!
This is such a touching and moving post that speaks to my heart. The broken strings is a powerful metaphor that you have interwoven so beautifully throughout the narrative.
Writing about one’s own family in the public sphere is laced with challenges that test us, not only as writers but as human beings who have responsibilities to care for ourselves and others. So, I can completely understand that you found this confronting. I also admire that you have acknowledged the potential impact your words may have on readers as this is an incredibly important, but also often neglected, ethical consideration in autoethnographic writing.
Thank you, and your Mum, for sharing these vulnerable stories and for reminding us all of the values that bind family members together and guide them through difficult times.
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Thank you so much for your feedback, means a lot to me that someone of your caliber took such an interest in my writing.
I really want to explore the concept of these value driven narratives. However, may not use the same confronting type of story.
Your writing has definitely inspired me to write from the heart, so thank you again.
Thank you for your kind words. I really look forward to reading more of your work. I’m eagerly following the #bcm311 hashtag as it appears to be a space filled with so many fine thinkers and writers.
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