“Hey Mumma, sorry I missed your calls, I just finished work, do you need me to grab something for dinner?”
“Toni, it’s Dad, I’m at the hospital with Mum – she’s not feeling well, they’re saying she’s had a stroke. I need you to go home and feed the dog and your sister is going to meet you there and you can drive here together.”
“Toni are you there???”
I went to the hospital with my twin sister (who, coincidentally, is actually 12 years my senior) and we arrived with a stuffed bear and all of my family in one little hospital room. There is no way I could forget the smell of that room, or the sticky feeling on my cheeks from crying in the car with Libby.
“What’s going on, what’s happening?” we rushed in and asked, grabbing Mum, all six of us, looking at each other.
“Um.. Mum didn’t have a stroke” my Dad said. “Fuck me, that’s amazing! Awesome! Well come on mum, let’s go home, why are we still here?!”, I said (tenderly). She looked at me, and my big brother gave me this shoulder squeeze that silenced me.
“I didn’t have a stroke”, she said, starting to shake and fight back tears, “I have a brain tumour.”
My whole world crashed. This perfect world I was living in where the only reason I could have a few missed calls from my Mum would be because ‘she needed something extra from Coles’ was gone.
I was in my first year of uni and feeling pretty damn invincible. After going to every WAAPA open day since I could understand what university was, I was there. I’d been accepted and I was on my way. I also had a job at Coles at nights and on the weekends, which gave me enough money to buy clothes, fuel, booze, and cigarettes to socially smoke (because that’s what you did at uni).
As soon as Mum got sick, that money changed to having just enough to buy fuel for my red Hyundai Getz to take me from the hills of Perth, to Mount Lawley, to Nedlands (where my Mum was in hospital), to Maddington (where I worked), and back to the hills. Paying for hospital parking and trying to look after myself as best I could to take any burden off my parents. (Definitely get private health insurance if you are reading this, it saved us.)
Eleven months later, she died. I had a Mum – this amazing Mum. Like, ah-maz-ing. And then I didn’t. Huh?
We got called into the hospital at around 3am on the 9th of September 2013 and she’d died. My Dad drove him and I, and we met my brother and his wife, my twin sister and her husband, and my other sister in the wee hours of the morning in the hospital car park to clean out her hospital room.
And then I just needed to prepare for my first funeral – my Mum’s.
I went with my sisters to buy a dress for this thing that we could barely believe had even happened yet. The shop assistant did the age old “Oh that’s pretty, what’s the occasion?!” and when I told her it was for my Mum’s funeral and she clocked all of our dreary faces she almost shat herself.
I wrote a eulogy and tried to fit my Mum’s amazing life into a couple of pages.
After that, so many people changed the way they spoke to me. Things like “I’m having the worst day, I missed the bus” or “I was late because I forgot to get fuel” or “My life is over this guy will NOT message me back” was always quickly followed by “Ohhhh Toni, I’m so sorry, you’ve just lost your Mum, this is nothing in comparison.” As much as this chubby girl with a brand new membership to the Dead Mums Club is horribly appreciative of the fact that my life seemed SO horrendous that it was the benchmark of shitness, everyone also has their shit too. Just because my shit is my mum being dead and your shit is that you were late for work, or a waiter said “Enjoy your food” and you said “Thanks, you too”, that’s okay! Your bad thing is your worst thing. We shouldn’t be on this planet to fight about who has it worse.
When I started at WAAPA I remember telling Mum that all I wanted to do was leave Perth and make something of myself. Then in 2016, I got my first job away from home (she’d been gone for a couple of years) and by this point, I was with my incredible boyfriend Alex, and we’d had been living away from home for a few months anyway. I moved a couple of hours south of Perth to pursue my career. I was finally doing it– making my Mum proud! Even though everything I’d done so far was coupled with her telling me she was so proud, it was the first big thing I had to do without her.
September rolled around and I spent the anniversary of her death away from my family. I dealt with problems at work, triumphs both professional and personal without her, and desperately wanted more than anything for her to be able to give me advice. Something I took comfort in was being able to imagine what she would say to me, or hoping one of my older siblings had gotten into the same mischief at some point and asking them what Mum said.
I made so many promises to my Mum as I grew up. I was the youngest child by a number of years which meant we spent a lot of time alone together. I told her all about my hopes and dreams, how I was going to have an amazing job that was going to move me around the world so she could come and visit whenever she wanted, how I would be famous (that one’s coming along really fucking well), and how I would be happy (workin’ on it. getting there).
But one thing is for certain: I took everything that happened to me on board and am now stronger and better for it. I am, of course, so heartbroken that my Mum is gone. In my moments of weakness where I miss her so much, I feel like I don’t know where my next breath of air is going to come from but somehow I always manage to inhale and exhale once more.
These days everything I engage in has a part of me that does it for her. Nothing changes your perspective and state of mind like recovering from loss, whatever the case may be.
Right before I jumped on the plane to my new Sydney life, I dropped in to visit my Mum. I cried. I wished she was here with me, then I realised she was, because there’s no way in hell I could have even thought about getting on that plane without her. Yep, for the second time, I was moving (across the country) to pursue my career. I am here for me, I’m here for my future, but she’s here too. And now here I am writing this for me and my fabulous Mum in my new fancy Sydney office instead of doing the job they hired me for (wait, is this being published somewhere?).
So my promise is to see the world with Mum in my handbag. To achieve everything I promised her I would because I’m fucking tough and I’m fucking strong. I am who I am because I knew my Mum, and also because I lost her.
Toni is a young 20-something year old trying to have it all. After the comedown of a brief brush with internet fame for having a Harry Potter event shut down due to it’s unfair under 15 age limit, she now spends her workday producing many National night radio shows for KIIS and iHeartRadio in Sydney.