If the cancer doesn’t kill her I will…

*The first version of this story was told at The Flame, a monthly storytelling series in Vancouver, BC. This version of the story is an abbreviated article I wrote for Origin Magazine. Check out Whole Foods for the hard copy. It looks great in print!

My mother drives me crazy.

Ever since I was a small child we have not had a good relationship. She always wanted to be… my mother. I wanted to be independent. I remember when I was a kid and I would hurt myself she would hold me and say “Em it’s okay, you can cry.” I would hold onto my tears until I was alone because I didn’t want my mothers comfort.

Our relationship was also very tumultuous in my teenage years. I had to move out when I was 16 because it was so destructive. I never understood when friends in college looked forward to going home at Christmas to be with their family.

It was the small things that drove me crazy. It was in my 20’s when she finally learned what an avocado was. To this day, when I am home using the bathroom, she will pop her head in the door unannounced and squeak “everything normal in here?”

Two years ago my family and I were going for a walk on the beach and my mother told us she had some important news. She sunk to the ground in tears. As I looked at my mother crumpled on her knees I remembered the story of my conception:

My father killed a bear; he drove home in the pick-up truck in the middle of the night and woke my mother up and had sex with her. My mother then got up and spent the rest of the night skinning the bear, butchering and canning it.

Seeing my mother weak and crying was a shock to me. My brother and I sat down in the sand. She clutched onto his knees and she told us that she had just been diagnosed with lung cancer.

She looked at me through her tears and said, “I only pray that I live to meet my grandchildren.”

“Gawd Mom I’m trying the best I can!”

I was 32 and single and that was a worry for both of us.

I went home to take care of my mother.

The moment I walked through the door she greeted me with post-it notes and a pen. She asked me to put my name on everything in the house that I wanted so that she could put it in her will. “Mom that is so morbid!”

She tried to give me a book about the particular type of cancer she had and I replied “no thanks, I am reading a fantasy novel right now.”

One night she said to me, “I want you to be more careful, your lifestyle scares me. I know you are secret smoking at night.” I looked at her and I wanted to say “Yes, but you don’t know that I am high on pot cookies right now. I use them to self-medicate when I am around you.”

The visit came to a head when one night I made her some soup. I was watching her eat from that bird’s eye view that you get sometimes. She had lost 25 pounds very quickly; she had aged 10 years in three months. She was shaking as she bought the spoon to her mouth and I thought, this is a woman who kills chickens with one swoop of an axe. This is a woman who has raised two children on her own in a trailer in the bush.  She should not be shaking right now.

She brought the spoon to her mouth and said “mmmm oh Em, what is that delightful spice?”


I thought in that moment, if the cancer doesn’t kill her… I will.

The next day my mother asked me to go to a healing meditation with her:

They give us homemade slippers to wear and we sit in a circle together.

When it is my time to share I spout something like, “Oh it’s amazing what happens when all the bullshit drops away and you can see someone for who they truly are.”

People smile at me but I just feel cold inside.

We all lie down on mats in the dark. My mother is lying beside me. She reaches out to grab my hand and I want to pull away from her. I think “needy, old.”

Someone comes by and lays an afghan blanket across my body.  The minute I feel its weight on me I crack.

There is no sound coming out. Only water, pouring out of my eyes, into my ears and pooling on the mat. I feel for the first time so ashamed of how I have been treating my mother. I think, she just wants to hold my hand, why can’t I let her hold my hand? And I realize it is because I am scared. I am so scared my mom is going to die.

It hits me under that blanket in the dark, at age 32; I need my mom. I want her to take care of me. I don’t want to have to take care of her.

I let my mom hold my hand.

And in that moment my entire relationship with my mother changed. It’s amazing what happens when all the bullshit drops away and you can see someone for who they truly are.

Now, two years later, every single night, I phone my mother and I ask her for her opinions and she gives me the worst possible advice ever! I told her the other day “I’m really worried about work, I’m having a hard time making ends meet.” She said,

“Why don’t you go to folk festivals dressed up like a clown and help people find a seat on the grass and then ask them for a dollar?”

The irony is that it took a cancer diagnosis for my mother to get what she always deserved- her children’s utter devotion. And even though some days I imagine attacking her with a two by four, I am so thankful to have a mother that drives me crazy.

Every moment I am thankful for my mother.