Buffy, ‘The Body’ and facing up to my mother’s terminal illness

Warning: Spoilers for the entirety of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy Willow The Body

‘The Body’ was one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that lingered with me long after the first viewing. In a way, it became a mirror memory to ‘Once More with Feeling’, an episode I had seen years prior to the rest of the series. The latter musical episode had shown a teenage me the love of camp, vampy horror I would realise much later, and reflected my sexuality in Tara and Willow all while I was crushing on Hinton Battle as Sweet the jazz demon. ‘The Body’, though. It left me exposed to my fear of death and, unknown at the time, a loss I would soon face.

In February this year, just before my birthday, I found out that my mother has Motor Neurone Disease. It was my aunt who broke the news, said we’d support each other through it. It was only in her hands, for now. They’d caught it early, even though she’d been having pain and stiffness in her left hand for some time. It was progressing slowly; the best that could be hoped for. At first, the discomfort had been diagnosed as a trapped nerve, a minor issue quickly cured with a single operation. It seemed better for a time, but the stiffness returned, and the muscles between her thumb and forefinger on each hand wasted away.

I understand why she didn’t want to be there when I found out. I know she didn’t want to see me scared or sad. I’m only thankful that Mum had people she trusted to carry the weight. Something Joyce, a single mother to Buffy and Dawn after divorcing their father, and estranged from her own two sisters, didn’t have.

joyce-the-body-buffy

Even so, nothing and nobody could have been prepared for the sudden brain aneurysm that killed Joyce after a battle with cancer. The moment that Buffy discovers her, eyes open and unblinking, laid as she’d collapsed, broke my heart. It dawns on her daughter that she is blank, unresponsive. Now, just remembering it makes me want to cry. There will come a time when my mum won’t be able to get up to meet me at the door, hug me or even smile when I come home to visit. No matter when it kills her, which might still be decades away, before that there could be a last time I’ll ever hear her voice. The future is punctured with these episodes, marks on the timeline. Nobody can know when they will fall.

It’s strange to think that, coming to Buffy far later than most of my generation, she would still provide my first insight into what really happens when you lose your mother. Even when my grandmother died, I didn’t see much of my mum’s grief. It’s a private tragedy. Someone who hasn’t been impacted by that loss themselves could never quite fathom it. Buffy showed me through the shock, and then the trapped terror and confusion of someone treating your loved one, who you depended on for so much, as just another body.

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