I’m not going to turn a blog which is a varied collection of pointless jottings about one random life into a blog about grief. My mother was a woman who liked to laugh, a lot, so she surely wouldn’t approve. However she also liked a good cry –
“Nanny,” sighed Daniel frequently “what are you crying about now?!”
So she would probably indulge me in a little more sentimentality before I try to move on.
My mother had been diagnosed with a new cancer in mid November having already survived one “terminal” cancer 15 years before.
“It’s not curable but we can treat it” said the consultant from the Royal Marsden. “We need to try to improve your kidney function first, so you can have the most chemo possible.”
Various tests, procedures, drugs and stents later, she headed to the hospital to find out what treatment she’d be having. Unusually neither my sister nor I were with her at that appointment but our friend Jane offered to take her. I can’t even remember now why neither of us could go – with hindsight of course, whatever the reason it was totally unimportant but we weren’t expecting events to go quite the way they did.
The consultant looked at the results of the kidney function tests and at her swollen and painful legs and pronounced that she would have to be admitted to get on top of these problems before chemo would be attempted. And so we (my sister and I) started the daily 90 minute round trip each out to Sutton, whilst trying to juggle work (in my case), children, dogs (in my sister’s case), and homes.
A suspected hospital acquired infection provided an interesting twist and the daily wash, gown up, visit, de-gown and de-glove and wash again became an automatic routine. And the legs remained swollen and kidney function remained low.
A CT scan was ordered and a request for my sister and I to attend “a family conference”.
We looked at each other, sometimes ignorance really is bliss as we both knew very well that the “conference” was not going to be the kind where you drink too much in front of your colleagues and embarrass yourself performing Frank Sinatra at the post dinner karaoke.
“The cancer has already spread to the liver and lungs, there’s nothing we can do.”
My mother amazingly retained the ability to speak which I appeared to have lost. The eternal question:
“How long have I got?”
The very experienced consultant bit her lip and said unconvincingly,
“Maybe a month?”
I have heard people say “Yes of course it’s possible that unicorns exist” more credibly.
So there was a flurry of hospice care meetings booked, and district nurses arranged and hospital beds ordered and a quantity of medicines prescribed. It didnt help that it was just before Christmas but everyone tried their best. Then two days later she came home.
Whilst she appeared to rally once home and we started to believe that the one month sentence might be pessimistic, it became apparent by the end of the first week home that she was failing fast. Plans for Christmas lunch (only two days away) at my sister’s house which had seemed effortless only the week before, started to look like an attempt on Everest. Wearing a wet suit and flippers. With a broken leg.
“We’re not going to get her over to you, are we?” I didn’t really need to ask.
“Well it’s too small for us all here”
Plans hastily rejigged and a Christmas lunch a little like a rolling road block was conceived, family coming in pairs through the day and rejoining the main cohort back at Camp Wendy for food once they returned.
Around this point, her legs had failed completely and getting her up out of the chair became a serious commitment. She refused to stay in bed all day and so whilst it was still a physical possibility, it seemed a small ask so we kept moving her from living room to bedroom every morning and evening.
It had become our habit for my sister to get her up in the morning and for me to put her to bed in the evening. Christmas day was no different. So there I was on my own, late Christmas evening, trying to lift her out of the chair. Not wanting to call on anyone as I had let everyone have a drink, knowing they’d done their bit and I’d stay clear-headed for the night shift.
Now my mother has always been generously proportioned (thanks for the genes, Mum) and in her head I think she was still a 20 stone healthy woman and I was a wispy teenager. In truth I haven’t been a wispy teenager for 40 years and she had lost so much weight that she can’t have been more than 10 stone. But every time I tried to stand her up, she panicked, froze and locked her arms about my neck making her impossible to move.
So we made a Rodin sculpture of half bent woman entwined in a death grip with her ill mother. If only we had someone to capture it on camera, we might have made a fortune in some arty gallery in Mayfair.
Her arms clutched about my neck in panic, she said waveringly “you’ll drop me”.
I wondered how many times I had needed my mother’s strength, her support and her care over the years, emotionally and physically. Time waited for me whilst I took a big deep breath, my mouth was very close to her ear in our entwined state. I wondered what to say to reassure her, I have always been good with words and something convincing and assertive was required. But what come out instead was the truth, and whispered quietly into her ear, so closely that it ruffled her hair as I said it.
“You can trust me”
Her arms still locked about me.
“You can trust me. I promise I won’t let you down.”
I waited, wondering if I should have said more or been firmer.
With a sigh and a noticeable relaxing of her arms, my mother trusted me not to let her down. Then I slowly stood up with her and held us both upright.
And there was no risk I would drop her, not only because I was strong and she was weak. But because I told her I wouldn’t and she believed me.
My mother never managed to get out of bed again after that day. But I will remember it more for being the night that I felt the circle of life catch it’s tail and close.