I don’t remember being interested in art when I was a teenager, or any form of painting e.g. watercolour, oil. When I permanently moved to the UK in 2006, I got inspiration from an old couple lived next door, who run a weekly art club for local people from all sorts of backgrounds, including housewives, high school students, and pensioners.
As a newly-wed young woman with an accented imperfect English who had only recently started living in the UK, I was more reliant on others in life. So, when the old couple invited me to join the art club, and then offered to take me to the club with them in their car, I kindly and happily accepted.
I lived in Burnham-on-Crouch then, a touristic old fishermen’s village that lies on the north bank of the River Crouch, and one of Britain’s best places for yachting. The club was run at a community hall in a nearby village called Southminster. After joining the club once a week for over a year, my watercolour painting skills started to develop, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time at the club, and long hours of painting at home. I also liked talking about art and painting techniques with my neighbours at every opportunity.
After about a year, I moved to Chelmsford, the capital of Essex, at half an hour driving distance to Burnham-on-Crouch. This meant I had to stop going to the club, but I never lost interest in watercolour painting, and I continued to develop my interest and appreciation about painting, and art in general. Unfortunately, I did not touch a brush and attempt to paint anything for over 11 years since then.
After seeing an advert in the Adult Community Learning course guide in July 2018 about a beginners course on watercolour painting, I remembered about my old hobby and how peaceful and life changing it was to paint. The feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment, received from being able to create a very personal unique expressions of one’s own feelings and thoughts only by using some water, paint, colours, brush and paper, is indescribable. So unsurprisingly, I enrolled to the course.
On Monday 29 October 2018, while I was excitedly driving to my third lesson at the Rayleigh Library, I heard the sounds of new message notifications coming from my phone. When I parked the car, I checked the messages. They were from my Sister, who sent me a picture of Mum lying in a hospital bed, and told me that Mum was admitted to hospital. I called her when I got to the library, wanted to only briefly talk to her, as I was focusing on getting to the class on time, and thinking that “She (Mum) will be fine, just another doctor/hospital appointment”.
Apparently Mum’s situation was a bit more serious than I had thought. She had symptoms, such as vomiting, bile in stool, abdominal pain, loss of appetite and increasing blood sugar levels. She had been suffering from backaches for a while, and it was believed that she had several hernias and she was receiving physiotherapy treatment at a Clinic in Malkara, Turkey. When she suddenly got ill on the second day at the clinic, her physiotherapy treatment was stopped due to her health not being suitable to receive the physiotherapy treatment, and the clinic discharged Mum, advising her to seek help from a hospital. My Sister Esra is a nurse at Bolu, Turkey. When she heard about Mum’s complaints and symptoms, she suspected gallbladder stones, and told Mum and Dad to go to the hospital she worked at without delay, so she could keep an eye on Mum during treatment and recovery.
On Tuesday 30 October 2018 at 10:59 GMT, I received three WhatsApp messages from Esra, with a devastating news:
“Elif, Mum has cancer, she does not know about it”.
At later messages, I understood that the initial diagnosis was pancreatic cancer. By 12noon GMT, I had a cocktail of feelings and emotions, that of course prevented me from concentrating on work, so I decided to take the rest of the day off, to be able to process the news that was developing by the hour, and to gather my mind to decide how to react. I drove home, roads were empty, and the journey more felt like being on a roller-coaster ride, passing through the tunnel of emotions, with head spinning ups, stomach churning downs, and body swirling sharp turns.
I arrived home, got in, looked at the cold house, my Daughters were at school and Husband at work. Everything felt cold, empty, meaningless, strange. I did not know what to do.
Then I remembered, my hair was not washed since Saturday when kerastraight hair treatment was applied at the hairdressers and I had to keep it unwashed for at least 3 days to improve the long lasting effects of the product. I needed to pick up my special kerastraight shampoo and conditioner from the hairdressers, as they were the only type of shampoo and conditioner I had to use, and I was looking forward to washing my hair since Sunday. Despite that, I did not know whether I should go to pick up my products from the hairdressers at all, as it felt like being disrespectful, while my Mum was fighting with cancer, how could I think about my hair beauty. But I felt I needed to go out, to walk, to feel the cold air on my skin, sit outside maybe in the park. I thought that would be better for me, better than staying at home. So I did.
I went out, walked, and breathed the cold air, and it felt good. It awakened my lungs, and body and mind. Walking all the way up to the Rayleigh town, slowly, purposelessly, and paying only enough attention to the outside world to avoid being run over by a car. I have always had a purpose, always had a goal in mind, something to do next, and something to say next, and then move onto the next action, next goal, next to-do. Now it was different. I have no idea what to do, what to think, what to say to anyone and to myself.
When I arrived at the hairdressers, I made minimal eye contact and conversation with my hairdresser. She looked puzzled, as I was not smiley, talkative and engaged. I did not want her to misunderstand me, as it was nothing to do with her, I just did not have the energy, the will and consideration of others to look as my normal self. So I told her, but while I was trying to talk, I got emotional, and started crying. She came over, and told me she was sorry to hear about the situation, and said she is a very good hug-giver, and she could hug me if I wanted. She opened her arms, and hugged me. It felt nice. It felt human. It felt like I mattered, and that she cared about me.
I got the hair products, and walked out again. I still needed the cold air, so I walked purposelessly through the town. As I was passing by one of the shops in the busy high street, I noticed a homeless young man, covered in blankets, sitting near a shop entrance, leaning against cold wall looking as purposelessly as I did. My head was low, looking down, eyes slightly swollen from crying. Then I saw a £5 note. Without thinking for another second, I immediately bent down, reached the note, picked it and turned back, and gave it to the homeless guy, hoping that he would use it to buy proper food, and not drugs.
I then thought about walking to the little beautiful circular garden near National Trust’s Rayleigh Mount, but I was not entirely sure where the entrance was. I could not remember it for a while, and then suddenly remembered, it was slightly behind the Rayleigh Mill. So I walked some more. Near the Rayleigh Mill, I noticed a man, who looked like one of the people maintaining the Mill and the surroundings. He stared at me, noticing my weird walking and puffed face. Maybe he thought I was drunk, or high, or raped.
When I found the entrance to the little secret garden, I noticed there was no one in the park, and that is exactly what I needed. I stared at my phone, and without waiting long, WhatsApp messages brought more news. At 13:13pm GMT, while I was sitting, I found out my Mum was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. At night of that day, I jumped on a flight from England to Turkey to see Mum.
It felt like the sand clock was turned, and I was running out of time. Time to see her again, alive. Time to talk to her while she was conscious. Time to tell her that I actually loved her. Although, I did not remember hearing that word from her when I was child and teenager. It felt like I was running out of time to talk to her, and to say sorry for breaking her heart during the summer in that year.
I was with Mum the next day, saw her fragile, powerless, jaundice, unable to eat for 6 days, being given drips, regular painkillers and drip-food.
The following day, we received the results of the latest tests done by that day, and wer were devastated by the unexpectedly horrific findings of the symptoms. Indicative evidence suggested that if no stent is put in the pancreatic duct to allow the flow of built up of bile, she may die from being poisoned by dangerously high levels of bilirubin, which was caused due to blockage in the pancreatic duct.
In the evening of that day, we had a long chat, while she was feeling a bit better, as she looked and said. Or maybe I wanted her to feel better and feel well enough to have a conversation with me. So maybe, I sought the first opportunity when she felt better and was well enough to talk and have a conversation. A conversation about past, my childhood, teenage-hood. About the reasons, and consequences, and decisions, and feelings. A conversation about the situations that I perceived as fact, or I concluded as evidence based realities. A conversation I dreaded for, feared for, and at the same time longed for, and I came for from England.
I felt selfish for letting her spend her energy to help me close the growing and darkening gaps and holes in my mind and heart that I have had for over the last decade. But God, it felt good. It felt so liberating during the talk, and after it. I think she felt that I needed to speak to her, so she let me speak. think she felt that I needed to hear from her the reasons and the details, so she explained. I think she felt I was sorry for breaking her feelings during the summer, and she received my apology, she took it, but she nevertheless needed it. She said I was her daughter, her child, these things were not important, and I did not need to apologise, she knew my struggles, my unsolved puzzles, my questions. I thought to myself, did she really know it? I did not want to explain my pains to her. I did not want her to feel any more pains, but hers. I did not want her to know my pains, and my struggles, as that would have hurt her heart more. So I gave a as constructive picture about myself as I could, a constructive picture about the reasons of my feelings, thoughts, assumptions and conclusions about her.
I recorded every second of that discussions, along with all other discussions I had with her and my family during my stay in the hospital in Bolu, because I thought that I might not hear her voice again. The way she talked, although it was changed. But choice of words don’t change much. So, I tried to capture as much memory as I could.
She seemed to be getting tired toward the end of the discussion. If she was well, I am sure we could have continued for another hour. But I knew, I needed to stop, and end the talk, and let her rest.
I had taken this blog photo through the window of the hospital corridor in the morning on a Friday, when my Mum felt a bit better, and we took a stroll in the long empty corridors of that floor that she stayed on.
Seeing her feeling well, feeling awake, and willing to take a walk was great. Later that day, we were transferred to a bigger hospital where her condition could be better assessed, and possibly pancreatic stent procedure could be approved and done.
In the evening of that day, I set off to return back to England. This time with sadness, but also some relief and a ray of hope.