Last night was the first night in a long time that I had a period of not being able to sleep… normally, once I’m out… I’m out! Last night however, was different. Two years ago at almost the exact time I woke up, I was on my way to the hospital to pick up my Dad. He’d made the call an hour earlier to say that my Mum was now at peace and had passed away. I was now reliving it all instead of sleeping.
This phone call wasn’t a shock . A month previous, Mum was admitted to The Beacon Ward at Musgrove Park Hospital as she was losing a lot of blood. Mum had been fighting ovarian cancer for five years, having multiple rounds of chemotherapy, but we had reached the point where nothing further could be done, and in the last few months, it was clear to see her body was getting weaker and weaker.
After being admitted to the ward during the night, we went over to the hospital the next day. When the consultant visited, she told us that Mum’s blood pressure would keep dropping with each loss of blood and that they would keep Mum comfortable and pain-free over the next few days (the time they now expected her to live). As you can imagine, this was completely devastating. I couldn’t believe that in a couple of days, we would lose her forever. Even though I knew this day would come eventually, please, not yet.
I called my brother and he came straight up to Somerset from Dorset with his family. That night the grandchildren had to say their goodbyes to their Nanny – it wasn’t fair to put them through the final days as they were all still so young (aged 10 and under). That was one of the hardest nights of my life.
Little did we know, Mum had other plans. Two days later, the huge blood loss she was experiencing had stopped. What was to be a couple of days was now going to be a little longer. Mum was still completely bed-bound, and it was clear to see that her body was starting to give up on her. The consultant agreed that they would keep her at The Beacon Ward instead of moving her to the local hospice and Dad stayed with her the whole time, sleeping on the chair in the room. My brother and his family stayed with us with the children staying at their grandparents when they visited whilst our children went to school.
Mum’s room for the next week was a hive of activity with visitors coming to see her – and we basically took over the family room and took it in turns each day to bring in lunch and treats from the supermarket on the way in. I remember a lot of laughs that first week. Mum could still chat here and there, she took pleasure in hearing us all talking and laughing together. Humour is the only way we know how to get through crap times in our family… we’re a bit sick like that!
There were some evenings where Mum’s breathing got really shallow and the inevitable felt very close indeed. We would all sit around her, holding her hands, and trying not to cry. We would sit for an hour just listening for her breathing which would be so erratic that sometimes it felt like the next breath would never come.
My Dad said jokingly one of these evenings, “Give us a song Else” … and with that Mum quietly started to sing ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ by Dusty Springfield. We sat, jaws dropped as Mum gave us a rendition of Dusty, complete with facial expressions (eyes still closed) and an air grab that frightened the life out of us all! Even in the face of death, Mum was still making us laugh.
Mum amazingly went on a little more than a couple of days. My brother had to go back to Dorset during the week so could come up and visit on the weekends.
I swear, every time a nurse finished their run of shifts, they were amazed to come back to see Mum still occupying the room! Even my friends, were being asked by their work colleagues “How’s your friend’s Mum?” “Still here”, they’d reply. It was just unbelievable. The kids would ask me every day, ‘Is Nanny an Angel yet?’.
It was a Sunday morning and I was getting ready to go to the hospital. Mum had now been there for three weeks and five days. My brother was up for the weekend visiting and was at the hospital. Mum had been asleep for most of the week and had now not eaten anything for several days and even fluids were next to nothing.
However, today was different. I had the call to get over to the hospital quickly. Mum had woken up for the first time in days and was chatting. “I don’t want you to miss this, come over now” my brother had said. I’d read about this (I was a bloody expert on the process of dying by now) when a patient has a huge surge of energy just before they pass away. All I kept thinking all the way there, was that I can’t miss her. I sprinted across the car park, my legs were like jelly, my head willing them to move quicker.
When I got there, she was awake. “You made it” she said. I’ll never forget it. I managed to show her the infinity ring I had bought with their birthday money for my 40th, promised I would buy a beautiful leather biker jacket with the rest so that she’d always have my back, told her how much I loved her and that she must not worry, we were all going to be ok, we had each other, we would be fine.
She managed to talk a little, see some family and was more alive in the those few hours than she had been in the last two weeks. It was wonderful, even if it was short-lived.
Once Mum had drifted back to wherever you go when you’re pumped full of morphine (which she told me was wonderful btw) my brother and I decided that we wouldn’t visit anymore. He was about to go back to Dorset so wouldn’t be around and I felt awful being there without him… just as he did when he thought I was going to miss the ‘final moment’ as I made my way over to the hospital.
This was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. Watching this amazing woman deteriorate the way she did was just heartbreaking, but I was really struggling to watch it anymore. She had no food or drink now for several days, this disease truly is evil. I kept thinking that back in the day, someone would have helped things along by now, administering just a little more morphine than required. You wouldn’t put an animal through this, so why do we do we let our fellow humans suffer in this way?
My Dad agreed that he didn’t want us seeing Mum deteriorate anymore and I couldn’t bear for my everlasting memory of her to be this shell of a woman, even though she already was. After nearly four weeks, I just couldn’t take anymore. It’s funny, but even though I was a 40-year-old woman, I felt very much like a small child at that time and Dad just wanted to protect us.
I know there will be people thinking, ‘I could never do that’, but I’ve learned, that unless you’ve walked down the same path as someone, you don’t know how you’d feel. Believe me, I have wrestled with that decision so many times.
Astonishingly, Mum remained in the hospital for a further five days, passing away in the early hours of Saturday morning, 20th February whilst my Dad sat sleeping in the chair. She was The Beacon Ward’s ‘longest resident’ with her stay from 20th January to 20th February.
The day Mum passed, my wonderful friends came round and cooked for us, we drank wine, we played music loud and relived our memories. I don’t know how we would’ve got through everything without our friends and family.
As I sit and type this, I have ‘The Best of Dusty Springfield’ playing over the speakers, with our little cockapoo puppy, Dusty sat next to me. The tears have flowed which have been locked away for too long, but getting it down on paper – or typed on screen… may be just what I needed to do to let it go. I hope you don’t mind me sharing it with you.
Tonight I will raise a glass to my wonderful, crazy, brave, beautiful Mum, who is always remembered and in our hearts forever.
This was our last picture together at my surprise 40th birthday bash- 10 days before she was admitted to hospital.
Until next time.
Love and hugs. xxxx