Going with the flow & not sweating the small stuff at Christmas!

close up of christmas decoration hanging on tree
Photo by Gary Spears on Pexels.com

Actually, for the first time in a few years, I am excited for Christmas!

Not to sound like a miserable cow, but I must admit, the last couple of years have felt a bit shit without Mum being here. She was my Christmas. So much of how you celebrate the festive period is built around how you spent it as a child.  All the traditions, the smells, the songs, the 80’s brash decorations! I loved all of it!

I certainly don’t want this to be a sad blog just before Christmas, but I know a few people that are experiencing Christmas for the first time this year without one of their parents, or a parent that is incredibly ill and I just want you to know that you’re in my thoughts.  It doesn’t seem like it now, but I want you to know that it does get just a little bit easier as the years pass.

I can’t believe that this is the third Christmas without Mum. I remember the particularly well…  Ellie constantly raising her glass to Nanny – which felt like a knife to the gut every time she said it, and I remember it just feeling very empty without her there.

That first Christmas was also the year that George Michael died, on Christmas Day! I’d managed to pretty much hold myself together that whole day, but when hubby came in and told me he’d passed away, the flood gates open.  I’m not sure whether I was crying for Mum or George, but I just let it flow!

I was surprised at the resilience I found to get through the day… until I’d drunk my weight in gin and the news of George Michael passing away was announced.  Your brain is a very powerful organ and it does everything it can to protect you – including pushing thoughts and feelings to the back of your mind so you can get on with life.  However, if you need to let those feelings out… do that too. My mantra was ‘just go with it’…. Your body will tell you what you need to do.

To be honest, the last few years, I’ve avoided doing some things that made me think of mum at Christmastime, like shopping trips.  It was just too hard to walk around and be reminded that Mum isn’t here. Seeing lots of mums and daughters picking out presents, having lunch with bags piled up next to them, I hated it! Thank goodness for Amazon – it’s been my saviour the last few years!  This year however, I did drag hubby for some Christmas shopping and all was fine.  I suppose what I’m trying to say is, if you don’t feel like doing things because they feel too difficult, then don’t do them.  Look after your sanity – there’s always another year.

I must admit, I have been a little more relaxed about Christmas this year.  I remember in the past, feeling very anxious in the lead up to it. I would want everything to be perfect, the house to be spotless, every eventually for food to be covered.  But this year, I’m a little more chilled.

When you think about it, Christmas Day is just another day. We get so bloody stressed about the whole occasion but how many of us think ‘thank f@ck for that’ when it’s all over? Every year I say, I’m not going to get so worked up over Christmas this year and that I will have everything done and dusted well in advance, but as I type this I still have a load of presents to wrap and a list of food shopping that I didn’t manage to get last night on ‘The BIG Shop’!  But its all good, it will get done at some point so there is no need to panic… and if I don’t have celery to stick under the turkey as it goes in the oven, Christmas will still be great, and nobody will actually give a shit!

What has also helped with the feeling of Zen around this time of year, is that Ellie seems to be a little calmer.  Christmas is not always a great time for children (and adults) that are on the autistic spectrum.  She is still obsessed with what food is going to be eaten and when (that might come from me!) and gets excited/anxious about different things that are happening, but this year it just doesn’t feel quite so fraught.  Maybe my new Zen-like state just lets it all wash over me (along with flashing the ‘Vs’ behind the fridge door).  I also discovered the magic of Reiki this year… maybe that’s helped too!

I’ve also been doing a Self-Mastery course in the latter part of this year.  What the hell is that? (yes, I hear ya!). In short, it looks at ‘your own life story’ and the struggles, celebrations, and the pivots in life that we all go through.  You then look at how you’ve behaved during the difficult times and look for patterns. Do you self-sabotage? Do you sit in denial? Do you move on quickly from something bad and not allow it to process? (I’m guilty of all of them!)

Learning to forgive, being mindful and practicing things like gratitude and self-care (along with other aspects that I won’t go into right now) has been a big part of the course and I know it has helped me greatly over the past few months. Everything we have been through in our past shapes who we are now, and this course has been invaluable to me in so many ways.  I’ll write a standalone blog on it in the new year.

If you’re still here at the end of this somewhat waffle-filled blog, I would just like to take this opportunity to thank you for sharing in my journey on the blog this year and wish you and your loved ones a Very Merry Christmas. Have fun, stay safe, don’t sweat the small stuff… and I’ll see you on the other side. xxx

Love and hugs

TOMD xxx

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Remembering Mum… Performing Dusty Springfield from her hospital bed and showing Cancer a f***ing good fight.

img_0599-1Last 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.

img_6564-2This 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