There’s someone I haven’t spoken about yet. Her name is Debbie. She will always be my inspiration and my hero. It’s hard trying to put this one into writing. I have been through barrels of trauma but I move on, I manage. Debbie is the one thing I cannot seem to get past.
On the 16th of August 2012, the world lost an angel; Deborah Ann Kiernan. Just a week after her 46th birthday, she lost her battle with cancer. She was a very significant person in my life. My reaction to trauma is complete dissociation, I struggle to feel any emotion. But, almost every time I speak about Debbie, I cry. You would think that after having gone through so much, I would be resilient and strong when it comes to all walks of life. It is her death that makes me weakest.
Writing this post will not be easy but, like clockwork, this is the time of year I start to struggle with her passing. As soon as the sun gets brighter and the days longer, I am reminded it is approaching not only the date we lost her but also her birthday.
Who was Debbie to me? The closest person I ever had to a mum. She was one of my biological father’s partners. They never got the chance to marry so technically I cannot call her my step-mum. She is the only partner that my father ever truly settled with after he split with my mother. She was wonderful from day one. I was 7 when my parents split – and my sister not much older – so naturally both me and my sister would reject any and all new girlfriends that he brought home. We once put Lego in the bed for one of his ex’s to lie on. It didn’t work out as he always got into the bed first and shuffled over as he was not oblivious to our cheeky antics. That made for an interesting conversation the next day…
Debbie was different. I still remember the first day I met her. Things were bad at home (as they always were), I was about 8 or 9 years old, so my father had come to pick me up and get me out of the house. He had previous plans that day to go and visit Debbie but cancelled them due to me coming over. I was really curious to meet her so begged for him to visit anyway. So off we hopped in the car. I remember the little flat that she had, thinking it was quite nice compared to where I live yet she was apologising for it not being anything special.
As time went on, I got closer to Debbie. I could never find anything to hold against her. She was so motherly and caring. After having suffered a treacherous past of her own, she recognised the signs of abuse straight away. She was the first person to see what was going on at home – even before my dad. She really filled that mum shaped hole in my heart. I remember when she first got ill. She wasn’t actually ill, she just had this lump on her leg. I was too young to understand what was going on. I knew that she had cancer. Doctors made the decision to remove her leg and see how things went.
And it worked, for a little while. She was adjusting to her new life with just the one leg. I remember us going on day trips with her in the wheelchair. She had such a good spirit and sense of humour. People would of course be staring and she would always find something funny about that person back or make a silly comment to the person about her missing leg. Watching people’s faces when she did the latter was always priceless.
After about a year, she went for a routine check up. The cancer was back. I cannot remember where it had spread to in the beginning. I think it was her lung. All I know is that, in the end, she had two thirds of her lung removed and that it had spread to her breast and arm. The type she had was very aggressive, it didn’t respond well to chemo.
She lived battling this for a good few years. In that time, we just grew closer. I remember all of the conversations we’d have about the future. She’d always be saying ‘when I get better...’. She was going to marry my dad in the summer (but she’d never be better by summer so it would be postponed to the next one), me and my sister would be bridesmaids. We were going to wear purple dresses with flowers on. Purple was my favourite colour. We’d sit on the sofa together discussing what we wanted the dresses to be. Once she had married my dad, she was going to adopt me. She would be my legal mother and I would move in with them.
But she never got better. They never married, we never got those bridesmaids dresses and she never adopted me.
My dad was never a stable figure in my life. He definitely is not the kind of person that is consistently present and certainly not fit to be a father. He would have these awful fights with his partners. He’d throw lighters, ash trays, mugs, anything he had to hand. Quite often would me and my sister find broken chairs out in the back garden, even the Christmas tree once. The walls were riddled with dents. I even remember the coffee table having a huge hole in the middle.
He’d get into these fits of rage and he’d start threatening to leave. Debbie lived in a different city to us. We’d be staying round their house in this strange city for the weekend whilst my dad would be packing up his car getting ready to leave me and my sister there. Debbie of course couldn’t drive so we would have had no way of getting back home.
My mother would hear of these fits and would see my father constantly having to cancel on seeing me and my sister to look after Debbie. As she grew more ill, we would see him less. Me and my sister were too young to understand that part, but my mother certainly could. She loved encouraging us to cut him out of our lives. I still remember sitting at the laptop, typing out an email with my mother looming over my shoulder. She had just done the same with my sister. I remember her saying ‘use the word wanker, he hates being called that’.
We said horrible things in those emails. Those emails were us telling our father that we didn’t want to see him anymore. This wasn’t an unusual thing in our household, it had happened many times before. However, Debbie had never seen us do this. She was naturally protective of our father and was hurt by the horrible things we said. By the time we were speaking to him again, Debbie still needed more time. I had no clue I wouldn’t see her again before she died.
A year had passed since those emails were sent. She wasn’t getting any better. She was constantly in and out of surgery. I remember not seeing my dad for a little while, Debbie was so ill and constantly in hospital. I think part of her was putting off letting me and my sister see her because she always said she didn’t want us to see her like that. I remember she’d always say when we were still speaking to her that she didn’t want us to remember her like that. I only understand now what she meant by that. She knew she was dying.
It got to a point where she was incredibly ill. She had been in hospital for weeks. She had given up on her treatment because they wanted to amputate her arm and perform a mastectomy. I really don’t blame her. I cannot imagine the things she went through. Then, she was given the news. She had two months to live. She finally agreed to see me and my sister again. I remember my dad telling me he’d call me back once he had arranged it. He called on the 18th of August. I was excited to see his name thinking he was about to tell me I could come down on the weekend. Instead he was calling to tell me she passed two days previous.
Just two weeks after we were told she had two months to live.
I never had the chance to say goodbye to her or even express how much she meant to me. I wasn’t allowed to the funeral. Her family were very spiteful of my dad and me. They knew we gave her an alternate family and we knew exactly what her family had done to her. Of course her fiancé couldn’t be pushed out but I was. Her family spread her ashes at a lake. If they knew her they’d know she didn’t want her ashes spread in water – we had both agreed and joked that it just seems like you’re drowning the person by doing so. I do not know any more on where her ashes were spread. I have no place to mourn her.
All I have to remember her by is the blanket she always kept by her side. I was given her saucepans when I got my first place and I had managed to find two photos of her after hours of internet digging. I then lost those photos and saucepans when I lost that flat last year. I never go anywhere without her blanket and I am so thankful that I never lost that. It meant the world to her. I refuse to wash that blanket as it still has some of her hairs on. It is the closest thing that I have to her.
It is coming up to 8 years this year since she passed. I wish I could stop time. I hate every anniversary because it means there is an extra year between us. It feels like it was just yesterday that I lost her but it is instead closer to 10 years. All of the trauma I have been through has never allowed me the chance to grieve for her.
I have never struggled with anything as much as I do with losing Debbie. Every day I realise a new thing that I want to do with her. I shouldn’t be growing up without her.
I am always finding new ways in which you give me strength, Debbie. I will always love you and I will never stop missing you. Rest easy.