My mother was dying – but my best friend brought happiness to a brutally sad day

The year 2012 had been a long and difficult one. One of three, in fact. It had been three years since my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer and, ever since, I, my dad and older brother had been living in the hospital-filled limbo so familiar to families of cancer patients – life dictated by chemo cycles, the endless bedside waiting, the guilty mental preparation for the inevitable.

Christmas in the Kalia household had always been a major occasion, though, and something to look forward to. Even though we are Hindus – our roots are in India – we had embraced the festival’s feasting and gift-giving. My mum would usually invite her two siblings and their ever-expanding families for turkey with all the trimmings, a meal she would spend days preparing while my kitchen-inept dad would look on in awe, faithfully laying the table and clearing dishes. That table would hold at least 15 others, all laughing and stuffing themselves – the usual disagreements that characterised family gatherings strangely absent. Since she had fallen ill, though, Christmas had morphed from a day of celebration of our big immigrant family’s resilient togetherness to a day fearful of absence. Which Christmas would be Mum’s last, I would wonder, and how could I make that one count more than the others?

Her last Christmas was December 2012. The cancer had gone into remission in 2011, only to come back nine months later – and this time much worse, requiring major surgery that would keep her in hospital over the Christmas period. I was struggling to come to terms with the news, having just moved out of home to university, where I should have been drinking myself into new friendships, but instead was only thinking about whether she would make it to the end of the year. I was spending my life on trains, coming home every weekend to make the most of the time we had together.

Read the piece in the Guardian.

[This was published on 17/12/19]