During the final year of my undergraduate, I remember tackling a really difficult assignment about the origins of simultaneous interpreting. I was home for Christmas and frustrated that I still had assignments to do, tired from the first term. Removing my headphones and peering from behind my laptop screen I declared to my mum and uncle who were watching TV beside me, “If I were to only live for one more year, would I want to spend it doing this? No. So I’m not going to apply for the Masters.” They didn’t mind. They never put pressure on me but I got a scholarship and I did the Master’s anyway. I put pressure on myself – I always have – with my need to prove myself and push myself. My need to do better, to be better. I think of that little one-sided conversation I had the previous year a lot because it wasn’t the last year of my life, it was my mum’s.
In a few days time I’m going to submit my final assignment. The Master’s has been one of the most difficult things I’ve had to contend with, both academically speaking and because of the amount of pressure I was under while doing it. I used to be envious of the other students. Sometimes their biggest worry was this stupid Master’s and it was the least of mine. I couldn’t quit though. I haven’t quit anything my whole life. Only ballet at the age of about 10 after pretending that I enjoyed it for about 5 years. I couldn’t bear the crushing weight of guilt as my dad said: “Do you know how much money we spent on that?”.
I didn’t want to make any friends on this course because I didn’t have the time. Being the introvert that I am, and being under so much stress I didn’t think I had room for friends. I used to just to do my work Monday to Friday, and go home on the weekends. I did make one friend though. Rather, she befriended me. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. We got really close, and she has been a real lifeline. I used to send her messages on a weekly basis: “this is it, I give up” with a follow up message 2 hours later to let her know that, in fact, I was still in the library and I hadn’t quit yet, “but I mean it, I am so close.” It became a running joke between us.
There’s been so much anger surrounding my decision to carry on at university. Had I not applied, I would have had so much extra time with my mum – this is a regular thought that plagues my mind. Though, my boyfriend rightly points out that if it wasn’t the Master’s it would have been something else, a job or perhaps a course of a different kind that I wouldn’t have been able to simply defer for 9 months. Of course, I know that’s true, because I know me. I know my mum too and she sure as hell wasn’t going to have me living at home at the age of 23 doing nothing but look after her.
A week before I was due to leave for my year abroad when I was 20 (about 3 years ago), we found out that the cancer had spread but we didn’t know where yet. I just wanted to cling to her and never let go, I certainly wasn’t going to go away to another country. I was ready to quit university and be with my mum. The following week she drove me to the airport anyway, adamant that I was not going to miss out on this opportunity. She told me,“if you aren’t going, you need to find a job and somewhere else to live because you’re not staying here.” Her stubbornness always infuriated me, but it’s what drives me now.
Trying to reach the finish line while grieving has been unbearable, and all I have wanted to do is crawl into her bed and tell her so, like I used to do when I couldn’t handle life’s pressures. That’s one of the most difficult things about losing my mum, I just want to tell her how difficult my life is now without her in it. She was always the person I went to when I was struggling. Now I am left imagining what she would say, or remembering what she used to say – “just do your best, Kates, you only need a pass” – she didn’t care what grade I got. She was so proud of what I had already achieved despite all of our troubles. Last summer I promised her that I would finish the Master’s, though I didn’t believe it myself.
I’m currently in my mum’s bed at 01.46 am, having worked on my final assignment all day. It’s the first one that she hasn’t read and given advice on. For the first time, I don’t mind what grade I receive either. I promised her I would finish this course and I’m still here. That’s enough. I didn’t quit.