Margaret’s eyes drifted up from her cooking pots and she gazed across the room, as if to search through the glass door panes for something important out in her chilly winter garden. She couldn’t see very much because the steam from the stove had hung the glass with droplets, like tears obscuring her future. There was moisture in her eyes too because she could not help but think about the inevitable. She was only 39 but she had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer and time was marching against her. She was going regularly for therapy to the hospital in Claridge but there was not much they could do. Even though it was 1967, cancer was not something that the medical profession had really got on top of. They gave you drugs and they helped for a while, but then you grew ill and you died. She was so young still with so much left to do in her life. In her dreams she would be healthy again, running and playing with her three kids in the flower-time of their lives.
There was Dennis the noisy one, full of cheek and bold as brass. Margaret was constantly scolding him, but she loved him dearly and secretly admired his independent spirit and his disobedience. There was Thomas too. He was very different to Dennis. Thomas was an introvert. One never knew quite what was going on in his young head or whether he was happy with his lot or not. Margaret’s feelings for Thomas confused her at times. She wished he could be more outgoing, more communicative, more like Dennis. And then lastly, there was Mildred, Margaret’s daughter, the youngest of the three children. She was strong and full of life and could climb the trees better than the boys. But Margaret feared for Mildred. When the doctors had told her that she had an hereditary type of cancer it had come as a terrible shock, but when they had also confirmed to her that it tended to run in the female side of the family, and that her daughter was at high risk of also contracting it at some stage, it had stabbed through her like a knife of ice. She feared for herself but was horrified at the thought that her daughter too might one day have to endure the same agony that she was living now. Sadly, Margaret turned back to her cooking, and her tears became one with the steam. She was going to die. For her there would be few tomorrows. “I may be dead tomorrow” she would tell her children.
The heat in the kitchen was intense. It was the mid-summer of the year 1999 and the temperature outside had climbed into the 40s. Mildred was preparing the evening meal for her family and she was trying to focus on her task. It was not easy though, because she knew she was not at all well. Mildred was not Margaret, but she may as well have been. She stood in her late mother’s house, in the same kitchen bringing up her young family much as Margaret had done. She said the same things to them that her mother had said to her and it was almost as if Margaret had been reincarnated and lived again. Almost as if the tomorrow on which she had predicted she would die, had never come. Mildred too had three kids but two of them were twin girls and there was just one little boy. Mildred was 42 already and it was 5 years since she had been diagnosed positive with the same familial cancer as her mother had died of 27 long years ago. Treatments had improved by that time. A lot of new work was being done with hormone and chemo-therapy and radiation techniques had come a long way. There was now hope of survival, or so the oncologists kept telling her. But Mildred knew it was false hope. She may live a bit longer than her mother had done but she would not make old bones. Tomorrow or the tomorrow after tomorrow, she too would die of her affliction. Her silent tears mixed with the sweat on her brow and dripped into the steam from the cooking pots. Tomorrow, she said to herself ‑ I will die.
29 year old Martha was still fit and strong. Her mother Mildred had passed on two years previously at the age of 57. Grandmother Margaret had been gone for more than 40 years. Martha knew full well that she or her twin sister or both of them would probably be blighted by the familial cancer in the fullness of time, but her attitude was different. Martha was a philosopher and thought of herself as a bit of a poet too. She kept a diary which she never showed to anyone but in which she wrote her poems, when the spirit so moved her. Now, in the autumn of 2016 she sat at the old writing desk in her mother’s leather backed chair in the library of the old family house that was still standing. This is what she wrote.
‘When a mother gives birth to a daughter or son
A new consciousness flickers; we say a life has begun
But the young candle’s flame is lit from the old
The same life burns on in a new body bold
Life of Mother and of Father; No new life unfolds
I am my mother and her mother’s son
I am my children, we are all one
Tomorrow we die, but our lives carry on
New lives are formed when our old lives are done
We may die tomorrow – but tomorrow never comes’.