This week I went to go and see A Monster Calls at the cinema, which is a story based on one of my favourite books. The story is about a young boy called Connor whose mother is sick, and every night a Monster comes to visit him to tell him stories about life, but eventually Connor must tell the monster a fourth story – his truth. This is a story that hits very close to home for me as you can imagine, and I knew going into the theatre that I was probably going to cry. I took all the necessary precautions – I went on my own (just me and a couple of pensioners quietly crying in our respective corners, it was great), took some tissues and plenty of water, and wore my favourite comfy clothes.
Whilst I knew I would cry, I don’t think I was prepared for how much I would cry. I read the book nearly two years ago so I had forgotten most of the details. So I was pretty shocked to find myself crying at practically the opening scene. It was a scene that most would probably not think twice about – Connor is getting ready for school alone, making his breakfast, putting on a load of washing and generally just doing anything that needs to be done before he goes to school. Before he leaves, he checks on his mum who is sleeping in her room, evidently tired and sick. It was like someone had taken a scene directly from my own life, reworked a few things and put it on screen.
There was so much to this film I could relate to – how everyone around you is talking about you behind closed doors, but won’t answer your questions. Taking on responsibilities you normally wouldn’t have had to until you were older. Teachers approaching you and quietly asking in class if you’re holding up okay and that you can always talk to them. Being whisked away to a family member’s house who you know, but don’t necessarily get on great with. But the thing that rings so true with this story is Connor’s ultimate truth – which is that he wants it all to be over.
I remember the moment extremely vividly. I had spent most of the day in the hospice, reading and eating pizza and wandering around. I didn’t want to see my Mum anymore, she couldn’t talk anymore and was barely ever conscious and I didn’t want to remember her like that. So I got taken home by my stepmum and had been home about an hour when my brother and dad walk through the door crying. And they told me she was gone.
I felt many things in that moment, but one of the strongest emotions was relief. Relief that it was over. And I know that sounds bloody awful but it had been four years – four years of her going through countless chemo and hospital appointments. Four years of growing up too quickly and having to constantly face the idea of my mum dying when my friends seemed to be just facing the idea of which boys they liked (which I know of course, they all had other stuff in their lives as well, but that’s how it felt). I had watched my mum lose her hair, heard her crying at night when she thought I was asleep, never known when I was coming home from being out with my friends what I was going to find when I got home. And finally it was over. She was out of pain, she wasn’t suffering anymore. And in my fifteen year old mind, I thought I could finally have a somewhat normal teenage experience (of course what 15 year old Lily failed to understand was that I know had to deal with a whole other beast – grief and loss).
I felt guilty about that feeling of relief for so long. I thought I was an awful person for feeling that when I was told that my mum had died. I’ve never really told anyone other than my therapist for fear of being judged harshly. Like Connor, I just wanted it all to be over. I was tired of seeing her in pain.
I also just want to clarify here that yes, I lived with a person who had cancer, but I can of course never understand what it is to live with cancer and to face your mortality in that way. Yes I had to watch all this happen to my mum, but I never had to actually go through it. I can never understand that pain and would never want to undermine that.
Of course I felt other things one would expect when I was told my mum had died. Sadness, anger, fear of a future without her. But relief was also there. Like Connor, this is just my truth.