I love the film Billy Elliot. I love the songs, the dancing, it’s gritty ‘Northern-ness’ and the way it makes you believe anything is possible if you just work hard enough. But the bit I love most of all is the scene where Julie Walters reads aloud the letter from Billy’s dead mother.
Mrs Wilkinson: ‘She must have been a very special woman, your mother’
Billy: ‘No, she was just me mam’
We all have a tendency to glorify the dead. Suddenly forgetting all their flaws and remembering only the good stuff.
But, for what it’s worth my mum WAS a very special woman. She was good in all the ways that mattered most: Kind, funny, beautiful, generous, caring…I could go on and on. I was the baby of the family by several years and was maybe a little bit spoilt by her (I’m sure my siblings will both vouch for that!)
I adored my mum and as a little girl would frequently have nightmares about horrible things happening to her.
She used to recall a time when I said to her ‘Mummy, I would still love you even if you ran over me in a car and smelled of dog poo’ – clearly two of the very worst things I could imagine another human doing.
The night she called me into her bedroom to feel a little lump she’d found will be etched in my memory forever.
‘It’s probably nothing to worry about but can you feel this’? she asked as she guided my fingers under the edge of her bra near her armpit.
I remember my breath catching in my throat as I felt a weird, rubbery lump embedded deep under her skin. I could hardly breathe.
‘Yes, I can feel a that’
I didn’t know what else to say. Of course I knew what a breast lump could be, I was a walking medical encyclopaedia after all. But things like that didn’t happen to us, to my lovely mum.
I didn’t sleep much that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What if it was ‘The C Word’? How would I survive anything bad happening to the person I loved most in the world?
When I tried to talk to her about it she brushed it off. Made me feel as if I was being a hypochondriac as usual:
‘Don’t be so SILLY Joanne (I was always Joanne when in trouble), it’s probably nothing, I’ve had a lump there before and it was just a cyst. Please stop worrying and DO NOT look in that bloody medical book.’
And so things carried on as normal for a few weeks. I stopped worrying about the lump and went back to imagining what my life would be like when I finally met Robbie Williams and he fell in love with me and we got married…
Which I think is why it was so much worse when my dad picked me up from work one night with a terrible, crumpled look on his face. I was almost completely unprepared.
‘So yeah, anyway, I’m going out this weekend dad. I’ll need to borrow some money and will probably need a lift and blah blah blah’
‘Will you stop being so selfish Joanne. Your mum has cancer and had a 60% chance of surviving it’
And just like that life as I knew it changed irrevocably forever.
She was just me mam…