Now: 7th September 2021
[I have just realised as I’ve written the date I am posting this on the 4th anniversary of Bren’s Celebration of Life Service]
When we found out Bren had cancer, our main concern other than the obvious was how it would affect the kids. Our plan of attack was pretty simple. Keep things as normal as possible and make sure the house is full of fun and laughter. We were determined to keep our families normal rhythm when and where we could.
Our neighbours and their kids helped with this, and I will always be grateful to them. The kids played in the street together on weekends and after school. Hearing them all shout and laugh was the best. Considering cancer had turned our world upside down, they were doing OK.
Bren and I had not both left the kids at the same time for more than a day before cancer happened — they were only 10. If they had sleepovers, they knew we were a quick drive away if they wanted to come home. At least one of us was always here for them. Now we would be more than 300 km away regularly for days or sometimes weeks at a time. Our family stepped in.
My sisters and brothers-in-laws helped whenever needed. Often at short notice — as did Bren’s mum Margaret. If we were away overnight, Aunty Sue or Margaret would come and stay with the kids at our house, allowing them to sleep in their beds, with their things around them. They also loved to go to Aunty Deb and Uncle Andy’s house and have sleepovers with their cousins Luca, Tyler, Gregg and Leilanie.
My Mum and Dad often dropped everything to help in any way they could, and Tyra and Bades teacher Miss Julia kept an extra close eye on them at school. Everyone worked hard on our behalf to keep
the kids lives as normal as possible. We had a village watching over us — #teambrendanm was born.
We were honest with our kids about what their dad was going through. If they had questions, we answered age-appropriately, and they knew it was the truth. We also shared our story publicly through social media and blog posts so that our friends, family and community knew what was happening too.
The benefit of publically sharing Bren’s cancer story — was friends and acquaintances got news about his diagnosis and treatment from us. It eliminated misinformation and rumours, and we didn’t have to talk about his condition in front of the kids when we ran into friends and acquaintances in the street. Everyone that knew us knew what was happening.
We won’t know how watching their father battle cancer affected our kids at the time or how it will continue to as they grow up. They’re almost 18 now, and so much has changed for them and the world. One day, when they are older still, they might want to talk about that heart-breaking, difficult time in their life. Or maybe they won’t. But they will be able to read about it, the whole story, the things they were too young to know or understand at the time and the things they may have forgotten. And that makes writing it all down worthwhile.
I have always been an advocate for telling a story. I honestly believe we all have one worth reading — for someone, and would encourage everyone to write theirs down.
Write your story for your kids and your family. Write it for someone going through something similar who might feel less alone for reading about your experience. Write so you don’t forget the parts you think you won’t but sometimes do. Write it for the timeline it keeps that can help when dates need recalling down the track. [Bren and I used our blog to check dates when filling in paperwork more than once.]
Not long after she passed away, dad found a journal of stories my mum Dolly had written over the years. It was the best gift. Dad, my sisters, me and our families will always treasure it.
I know mum hoped we would read them one day. She knew they would make us laugh and cry — and remember. But most of all, she knew she was writing her stories, and we would love them.
I urge you to start writing your story today. Use a journal, a textbook, or sheets of paper you can file away. Use a computer, notes or get a voice memo app on your phone. You don’t have to write a book, but who knows — you could. [Belinda Gilbert]
How often have you jokingly said, I could write a book? Now might be a perfect time.
You are the only one who can tell your story from your perspective. So tell it.