This was during the late Eighties and I was just a boy, only beginning my career. She was Australia’s original rock chick. By the time I met her she had taken a job as an advertising creative director working at a multinational ad agency and she was my boss. But really, back then, she was my other mother.
I told her as much before she died. I was moved to do it because Carol’s terminal illness gave me the urgency I needed to tell her what she meant to me. She seemed surprised and a little embarrassed to hear me open up like that. We had a joking relationship, not a sentimental one, which is probably why I hadn’t said it to her before. She waved away the compliment at first, but I was on a mission to tell her why I thought of her that way.
I told her I had low self esteem when we met, residual feelings from a childhood spent under siege in North Queensland, where my sisters and I were the only kids of asian descent in a town of 4000 people. Carol was surprised. We worked in the fast talking, big ego world of advertising in the 1980s. It was an industry that ran on the fuel of forthright opinions. We all made careers out of exuding confidence. I tried to explain to her that I only grew into my confidence under her careful nurture. Oh, God I put on a performance that day.
What didn’t occur to me as I was emotionally unloading on her was just how poor my timing was. Not that Carol Lloyd hadn’t been my other mother as I’d described. She had been. She was a wonderfully warm person with a genuine interest in people, especially young talent. So, naturally, she mothered me.
She also had a powerful aura. It looked like enormous self-belief and it had fuelled her rise to the heights of Aussie Rock, as a female lead singer fronting an all-male hard rock band, an act that hadn’t really been seen in Australia before Carol invented it. Carol was an unstoppable force back then and for most of her life until her terminal illness.
What a pity then that I chose the occasion of her illness to tell her she was my other mother and to unload my frailties on her. Of course it came from a good place and I assumed that she would be delighted to hear it. I assumed that she would have appreciated the recognition of the role she played in my life. That she would see how the urgency of her own situation could bring me to this emotional outpouring, but now I realise how needy it was also, to choose the moment of her illness to talk about me.
Since that day, I’ve thought a lot about this mother/son confession that I made to Carol. I’m sure on many levels she felt the love I intended but I bet she also felt weariness. There must be a huge down side to having strength because there’s an expectation if you’re strong or powerful that your strength will always deliver. Even when you, yourself, might one day need to lean on someone.
Carol’s disease was Pulmonary Fibrosis. She must have been feeling fearful or at the very least fragile at her diagnosis. Pulmonary Fibrosis is the sort of disease that causes patients to struggle for air, something that becomes more and more difficult toward the end. It’s a frightening death to contemplate. Meanwhile I was the one indulging my inner child.
I regret that neurotic conversation now, and the neediness of it. I was middle-aged and wanting attention from my other mother. What a life fail. It’s a lesson I’ve now learned. Mothers may give their love endlessly but it’s in the hope that we’ll grow up. Life puts a deadline on it and all that mothers need to know is that their job is done when we’re all right in the world, capable, confident, and able to carry on.
On February 13, 2017 Carol Lloyd passed away in the Wesley Hospital. I’d been to see her only a couple of times as her condition worsened. I found the atmosphere emotionally painful. We talked about the old days during those visits. It was our distraction from the obvious. Her illness loomed too large for me to discuss directly. It was Carol who wanted to talk about it. She said she wasn’t afraid of dying, which I guess is the sort of reassurance that the dying often give to those who are left behind, perhaps to make them feel better.
In her final days, we resorted to text messages because she really couldn’t speak. They were mostly distractions, laughs, anecdotes to cheer her up. One day, I sent her a picture, a ridiculous thing, of Carol in a copter plane. It was a vision I had in the night, and which I recreated in Photoshop that morning to send to her. I told her how I had dreamed she’d landed her copter plane on the roof of my house, that she’d dropped in unannounced and how, typically she’d come to party. It was my way of reaching out, to tell her I was thinking of her, at least in my dreams and in lieu of another painful visit to her bedside. She sent me a simple reply, through the cocktail of drugs that they had her on. It said, “I love you. I love you most, angel.”
She died the next day and this was her final gesture of reassurance. What a strong and giving other mother.