One of our Mondays
Day 9 of the Challenge:
I’ve known Mrs. S. for nearly all my life. Fifteen years ago she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. She had a mastectomy and chemotherapy. The cancer eventually went into remission. Mrs. S. came out of a dark depression that had engulfed her during her illness. She started to hope, booking appointments for leg waxes and romantic weekends away with her husband.
A month later her previously healthy 20 year old son collapsed in his room. He had had a catastrophic brain bleed. Within seconds he was transformed from a beautiful young man with his whole life ahead of him to a bloated heap of bones and muscles. Mrs. S. wore black and retreated into herself, her face and body a contortion of pain.
Months after her son’s death, I was admitted to hospital for my first round of diagnostic tests. I reacted badly and ended up with mengingo-encephalitis. Mrs. S. came to visit me every single day, bringing me home cooked food she was sure would help my recovery. She continued visiting me after I was discharged.
Over the next few years I was in hospital much more frequently than I was at home and Mrs. S. was always there, coming by with silly stories and treats to try and keep my mind occupied. In truth she needn’t have said anything. Her existence was enough; strength and courage passed on by osmosis.
A few months before her son died he was trying to organise a family trip to Scotland, where I lived. When I was strong enough to leave hospital and go back to Scotland, I spent hours trying to figure out if I should do something there in his name… In the end took an empty bottle, filled it with sea breeze from the isle of Skye and took it to his mother back home. She put it on his grave where it stayed for years, next to pictures of boy scouts and smiling young men.
We had a ritual with Mrs. S.. Every Monday evening she would come to our house where a saucepan of prawns baked in red sauce and feta cheese and a glass of red wine awaited her. We would have dinner and talk. When we moved away, Mondays felt empty for a long time.
She was a housewife and a mother all her life. Five years ago she decided to open a food bank with her husband. They founded a charitable organisation that feeds 100 families a month for free and provides cheap, good quality, local produce to close to 1000 more families in need.
Mrs. S. visited us this year, her first ever solo trip anywhere. She had worn black for nearly ten years. This summer she put on a black shirt with grey dots on it. We welcomed her to our house with a saucepan of prawns baked in red sauce and feta cheese and a glass of red wine. It felt like one of our Mondays.
Today I am grateful for Mrs. S.’s presence on this earth and for the lessons her life has taught me and everyone who knows her. I am grateful for her love and the certainty of her presence in our lives. But mostly I am grateful for the existence of a creature whose capacity for empathy towards others is seemingly infinite and not altered or defined by the sum of her own pain or experiences.