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Even growing up in a religious household surrounded by brothers and sexism I was taught by my mother how to be independent. Not just how to fend for myself, but how to think for myself and act for myself. It was not just about survival for my mother, it was about living the best life possible.

On the 13th August 1997 I lost my mother to renal cancer. She had been terminal for a year. I was about to turn 17 and had my whole life in front of me but it felt like that life was now over. Grief took a hold of me in ways no one in my life could ever imagine, there are things I’ve not even told my best friends or Simon. It was a dark, dark place, not least because I’d gone from being raised to be independent to having my whole life tethered to a broken home.

Don’t misunderstand me when I say I felt trapped. It was not the fault of the innocent children, or even entirely the fault of my father. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it just was. I’d lost the greatest and most positive influence in my life and I knew I’d miss her forever.

It’s 21 years later and every day I think about her. Genuinely so, for she was such a huge influence there is always something I relate to her. I had not been awake more than a few minutes this morning when I’d thought about something she had taught me.

My youngest sister turned 23 last month and she is expecting her first child, a daughter, around Christmas. She even has the same cravings mum used to have when pregnant, pickled onions (specifically Monster Munch crisps!), and I know each time my sister looks at her daughter she’ll think about mum. It’s times like these, experiences like these, that I miss her the most. I wish she was here with us, experiencing the highs and lows of our lives. I wish I could have her advice now, it’s been so very long since I have had the voice of a matriarch talking at me. I miss it. I miss her.

I turn 38 in a couple of months and for the first time since getting sick I’ve experienced more of that independence she taught me. I have my power wheelchair now, I can “walk” away when I want, go at the speed and in the direction I want. I can do so much more for longer and go further – it’s hard to describe just what that means to me.

I think she would be proud of me. Not just my academic achievements, but of the person I’ve become as well. I am more patient and quiet, more selfless and forward thinking, more positive and happy than I thought I would be at this point in my life. It seems that my challenges in life have strengthened me, which is what she wanted of me.

The night before she passed I was alone with her for many hours, and though she was in and out of lucidity (the cancer had reached her brain by this point and she essentially had dementia) she managed to give me one last bit of advice, and these are words I’ve seared onto my heart and mind.

“Challenges either break you or make you stronger. Be a fighter and be stronger.”

I was strong for you, mum, and strong for my sisters (and brothers), but now I am strong for me too and my life is much better for it.

I miss you and love you forever,

Your dutiful, independent daughter,

Claire.

Wedding Day [2]