Here's introducing today's guest post from Fiona Leonard!
Growing up we never celebrated Halloween. As an Australian family in the 1970s, this was not all that unusual. Halloween was then still a distant American tradition. Later, though, I would learn that the 31st of October was a day that held great significance for my mother: the day she went into hospital for cancer-related surgery. I was two at the time, my mother, thirty-three.
My mother spent the next forty-five years anticipating her imminent death.
The conversation around the time of Halloween in my twelfth year is still vivid. In my mind the day is glaring bright. Driving in the car, she glances towards oncoming traffic then announces she has been cancer free for ten years and her chances of survival have now improved greatly. I feel myself look back over my shoulder at the past ten years; at my mother’s mortality, the spectre who had been riding in the back seat waiting to take her.
Waiting for death changes you.
Every illness is a potential sign of things to come. Any illness in those around you needs to be thoroughly investigated to ensure that what happened to them will not happen to you. I grew up expecting cancer to be waiting at the next bend. I expected to have inherited what had lurked within her. I learned to anticipate it with a stoic acceptance.
But survival is confusing; a strange counterpoint to expectations. You are prepared for the worst case scenario and then confused when it doesn’t play out. It is hard to prepare for a future when you are not sure you will have one. And as that future keeps arriving, again and again, then what?
She was angry at me. As the years wore on I became accustomed to her survival. I expected her to live. She cursed me for not acknowledging she might die.
I have come to understand why I have always struggled with ‘future’ questions: What do you want to be when you grow up? Where do you see yourself in ten year’s time? I never imagined myself growing old. I learned to be at peace with today. So many times I’ve looked around and thought ‘if I died today, would I be content with what I have achieved, with who I have become?’ The answer most usually is yes; right now it’s yes. And yet, I wonder too what it would be like to have a plan, to be able to imagine a distant future.
The struggle is not to answer, what would I do if I only had one year to live, but what if I had fifty?
As a teenager, Fiona Leonard took two career aptitude tests. The first said she was unemployable, the second returned only one result - coroner. She decided to ignore both (and give up taking aptitude tests) and instead became in turn, an Australian diplomat, foreign and trade policy consultant, freelance writer, theatre producer, blogger, and author (and sometimes several of these at once). Later, she realised she should have just had a business card printed listing her profession as 'storyteller' and be done with it. She can be found telling stories about her current home, Düsseldorf, at www.talesfromacity.com.