FIFTY-TWO is too young to lose your life, and 20 is too young to lose your mother.
Emily Hayes lost her mother, Nicky, the founder and the owner of Nicky’s Dance Studio in Donnybrook, Douglas, to cancer on February 6.
The two were inseparable, and Emily’s own serious illness brought them even closer.
“When I got sepsis two years ago, it was always in my head that I might die,” says Emily. “My mum never left my side when I was critically ill. I always knew she was right there.”
At 17, Emily was scared; fearful of the unknown. Her mother watched over her only child day and night when she was in hospital in isolation fighting for her life.
“I was cut off from the outside world. My mum and my granny kept me going,” says Emily.
“When they came to see me; they were all gowned up with masks on.”
As Emily lay there, in her lonely hospital bed, the constant intravenous drip, drip, drip, in her ears, her mother gave her some of her own inner strength and willed her daughter to get better.
“ At one stage, I thought I was dying. All I wanted to do was get back dancing,” says Emily.
“I had mum’s phone and I played the song, With You from the musical Ghost. It was just between mum and me. But she got it.
“Mum was always there for me. We were best friends; we were partners.”
Emily believed that she would live life and live her passion following in her mother’s dancing footsteps.
“In hospital, I trusted them to mind me. You get some people, they want to die,” says Emily. “I didn’t. That’s the difference.”
She didn’t want her mother to die. Best friends, bosom buddies, with a unique bond nothing or nobody could break; both mother and daughter still had a lot of living to do together.
“When my mum was diagnosed with cervical cancer on St Patrick’s Day two years ago, I was afraid she would die,” admits Emily. She was always there for her mother.
“I slept on a chair in the hospital ward with a blanket,” says Emily.
The staff at CUH are incredible. There are no words to describe the staff on Ward 4.
“When mum was admitted to Marymount Hospice the day before she died, I went there with her. We were never apart.”
The two were inseparable.
“I was holding her right hand when she passed,” says Emily.
“Her younger brother, Craig, was holding her left hand. She was at peace now with grandad who she loved dearly.”
Other people who loved Nicky and Emily dearly rallied around.
“My friend Nicole arrived to Marymount when mum died,” says Emily.
“I hated leaving mum behind. Nicole walked out of there with me.”
Nicky, talented dancer and champion baton twirler, who had championed all the dancers she had tutored over 20 years at her dance studio, didn’t give up easily.
Even with a cancer diagnosis, she bounced back.
“Mum, who never drank or smoked, responded to treatment and rallied after surgery,” says Emily.
“She was cancer- free for a period, but the cancer came back. And it was downhill from there. We were so close, mum could tell me her final wishes.”
Emily and Nicky were tight. They were never apart. And they never will be.
“My mother’s ashes will always be beside my bed,” says Emily. “Her body failed her but her spirit never did.
“And part of her will be always close to my heart in the locket around my neck next to the amber stone she gave me as a baby. I gave the stone back to her when she was ill. Mum was very spiritual and she was interested in everything holistic.
“It was like Karma when I found the stone among her clothes I got back from the hospital after she died. It was like she was giving it back to me again.”
Nicky gave her daughter many things to equip her going through life.
She gave Emily the confidence and the courage to shine in life and on the stage. Nicky gave her the confidence and the courage to take over her beloved dance studio promoting future stars.
Nicky had confidence in her daughter to bounce back, even when life seemed a little dimmer.
“Mum entered me for the Cork Rose when I was doing my Leaving Cert! She thought it would be a distraction for me when she was sick. It ended up being a fabulous distraction for her!”
Nicky was a go-to person.
“She was a really caring person who cared about others, no matter who they were,” says Emily.
“Even when she was ill, her spirits were up. When she lost her hair, going through cancer treatment, she didn’t complain.”
Nicky was a people person.
“She welcomed everybody at the dance studio in Donnybrook and into our home with open arms. My friends connected with her and they often confided in her. She was like a second mother to them.”
Nicky enjoyed the simple things in life.
“Mum, granny and me loved going on day trips together. Going for a spin to Ballycotton and a walk along the beach with the dogs was our favourite thing to do. I am going to bring granny out for a spin and treat her to lunch on Mother’s Day,” says Emily. “We’ll celebrate mum’s life.”
Emily recalls happy days at home with her mother.
“At home Sunday was baking day. Mum was very exact and she used to line up all the ingredients on the kitchen counter and she even had the same colour smarties all in a row for the icing on the buns!”
Pyjama days were on the menu too.
“Mum, granny and myself all had fluffy pyjamas with a polar bear on the front. We’d put them on to snuggle up and watch Gavin And Stacey on TV.
“When mum was dying, I had the pyjamas in my bag after being at a pal’s house chilling out. The nurses asked me for clothes for her, which I didn’t expect. She was laid out in the fluffy pyjamas.”
It seemed right somehow.
“It was right,” says Emily.
“Some of my best memories are of me, mum, and granny in our PJs lounging on the princess couches at home watching Gavin And Stacey on Netflix. Mum was Gwen and I was Nessa! It was a silly game we played.”
Emily has a treasure trove of cherished memories etched into her heart that she will always carry with her.
“Mum worked so hard to give me everything,” says Emily.
“Once, she bought me a pony! Another time she surprised me with a limousine to chauffeur me and my friends to dinner for my birthday.”
The most precious thing Nicky gave to Emily was strength.
“I say that each tear I shed represents a memory. I cry lots of tears,” says Emily.
“But the strength mum gave me gets me out of bed in the morning.”
Nicky, always a good friend to everyone, always had good friends too.
“Louise is mum’s best friend,” says Emily. “She used to text mum every morning and every evening when she was in hospital for three weeks. Now Louise says for me, she’ll do the same. She texts me every morning and every evening.”
Home, where the heart always was, is not quite the same.
“No. It’s not the same anymore,” says Emily. “It is difficult to be there without mum.
“She was such a presence and there are reminders of her everywhere. When you open the front door, you expect to see her.
“I can still hear mum’s voice. Her clothes still have her special scent.
“I live with my uncle, his fiancée, and my three cousins now. We were always very close.”
It can get crowded there — cousins having fun and mucking in together?
Emily smiles through her tears.
“Craig said don’t bring any more stuff here. But if the Princess couches have to come, then that’s fine!”
Even though Emily knows that she lost her mother too soon, she has known unconditional love always.
“To have been loved like that for 20 years by anyone is just amazing,” says Emily. “Mum was a once off. She was one of a kind.”
Emily says we all should cherish our mother’s love. There will never be another.
“Your mother is the person who brought you into the world. You only have one mother. Never take your mother for granted,” says Emily.
Emily certainly never took her mother’s love for granted.
“I was really lucky to have a mum like her,” she says. “I could tell her everything.”
Nicky told her daughter everything too.
“Mum said to me, ‘the best thing I ever had was you’.”
Emily knows her mum is always with her, watching over her like she always did in sickness and in health.
“Sometimes I see a robin on the doorstep. It is a sign mum is here with me. “Everything I do, I do for mum.”
Emily, living her passion, dances like nobody’s watching.
But her mother always is.