This date last year my life changed forever. On the 15th of December 2011 my Mum died.
This post isn't about pity, it's about loss, it's about my Mum, it's about me and hopefully it will help someone out there who has just been bereaved or who is going to lose someone very dear very soon.
My Mum was only 66 when she passed away. Now some of you reading this may think this is old, but I can assure you it isn't. My Mum still worked full-time, infact more than full-time, she was always on the go and had a memory like an elephant. She was shy and reserved until you got to know her. She had a wicked sense of humour, an amazing singing voice and she was a tiger who would do anything for her children, regardless of the fact we were all 'fully grown'. Above all this she was a Mum and that three letter word says it all.
I had only been back from Australia for 3 weeks when I got the phonecall that would change my life. At 7.30pm on 14th November Mum called me and she couldn't get all of her words out. I was sure she'd had a stroke. (I worked for many years in stroke rehab, I know all the signs), but what I didn't know, was that day my Mum had been to the hospital, by herself, and had been diagnosed with a brain tumour. That phonecall from my Mum is embedded into my memory forever.
I had to have her admitted to A&E against her will, which is one of the hardest things I have had to do. Being in A&E and hearing her unable to recall her date of birth, what month we were in or who the Prime Minister was was heartbreaking (these are all standard questions Doctors ask when someone is admitted with confusion). This was the lady whom everyone went to to get a date from or to clarify information, as I said above she had the memory of an elephant. There she was; my Mum, but my Mum was already gone.
She was an incredibly private lady, hence the reason she was alone when she went for the MRI scan. Didn't want to worry us and all that, you know how it goes. Stubborn as a mule and infuriating as hell at times. But it wasn't until the next day, 15th November, that we found out that Mum hadn't had a stroke but instead she had a brain tumour, but that wasn't all. The tumour which orginally looked like a primary cancer, was infact a secondary tumour and she had primary lung cancer. Options were really limited, none of them would cure her in the long term, they would prolong her life and that was all, and we ran through all the options of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery and a mixture of all three as well as palliative care. Mum was put on a high dose of steroids to reduce the inflammation around the brain tumour, and this improved her speech slightly, it was only the inflammation which had given her intermittent speech problems over a couple of days which was the indicator that something was wrong. Other than feeling a little tired, Mum had no pain and felt normal. So to receive a double cancer diagnosis not only hit us as a family for six, it totally floored my Mum.
We are a family who are very spread around, not just within the UK but worldwide. Having to phone my Mum's sisters, my cousins and other family, friends and my Mum's employers knowing those phonecalls would change their worlds forever was one of the most harrowing things I have gone through (and I can tell you I have experienced some harrowing things in my time).
The doctors predicted we had months if Mum didn't have any treatment. We had ONE month, one calendar month that was all. Mum wanted treatment which surprised us all. She was always the sort of person who said "well when your times up, your times up", but then again none of us know what choice we would make when we are delivered that fateful news. But the cancer wasn't going to wait for the surgery to take place.
I can remember standing in the side room which Mum was in, by this point she was totally unresponsive, I staring out of the window seeing all the Christmas lights, the party revellers in their finest, was screaming inside "MY MUM IS DYING, why isn't Christmas cancelled". But as much as you hate it at the time, life goes on and it is a constant cycle which we all live through but I wish we would talk about death more. It will happen to all of us. It is the only sure thing.
Somehow you go onto automatic pilot, eating, sleeping, I did the Christmas present shopping for my nieces and nephews, and Mr B.P.'s family. I put up family and I fielded calls from others wanting updates. I showered and put on make-up, arranged a funeral. Afterwards I looked back and couldn't believe I had done all those things and more, but believe me you do and you will when you find yourself in a similar situation.
Mum passed away in the early hours of Thursday 15th December 2011. I live 45 minutes drive from the hospital. I missed her passing by 10 minutes. I was heartbroken, but I knew my Mum wanted it this way.
A whole year has passed now. Sometimes it feels like yesterday, sometimes it feels like her passing happened in another lifetime, time is a funny old thing. I miss her everyday but it does get easier. Life will never be the same, how can it be? Especially when you lose someone so intrinsically linked to your very existence. But you do learn to build a different life without that special someone in your life.
Grief too is a funny old thing. You will find some days you feel absolutely fine, other days it takes your breath away. You could be in the middle of the supermarket, watching your favourite soap or in the shower or something could remind you of them, a smell, a phrase, a song on the radio, but ride that grief it is all part of the healing process. Your body and mind has to heal, give it time and don't be hard on yourself. I learnt to accept the times when I felt awash with grief and just accept it.
I can remember feeling as though my breath had been taken away. Losing Mum was so painful it physically hurt. I now know the true meaning of being heartbroken. It is a physical pain within your chest. Something which is as simple as taking air in and out appears to be an insurmountable task.
In my experience people will do things which will amaze you. Those you thought would be there for you almost ignore your bereavement, which can feel like another bereavement all over again, others will give you the widest shoulders to lean on. Take all the support you get.
Also I have an NHS background, I know how it works but I beat myself up for months after because I felt I hadn't asked for enough, pushed enough, got the equipment in place which I knew would make Mum more comfortable. Please don't do this to yourself if you find yourself in a similar situation, when you are the one who has become the eye of the storm, you forget everything going on around you. No matter your background you become the patients carer, you have so many plates to juggle you are bound to drop one or two, it doesn't mean you have failed in their care.
Many would say my Mum had a good life and a good death. Yes she died safe and warm and relatively pain free in a hospital bed and we had a months 'warning' of her impending demise. But it doesn't matter how long you have or how they pass, a loss is a loss is a loss and you will feel that same pain no matter how it happens. Be kind to yourself.
There are so many things I miss about my Mum, far too many to list here and I am so sad that she passed away many years before she should have but I'd much rather have had the 40 wonderful years I had with an amazing Mum than many more with a feckless mother.
The firsts are always the hardest. The first birthdays - theirs and yours, Mothers day, Christmas the list goes on, be kind to yourself on those days but you do get through, I did.
Last year as you can imagine, Christmas was the bleakest of times but this year, we as a family, are joining in all the festivities and being thankful we have a wonderful support group around us. Christmas means different things to us now but we will still celebrate.
As for my Mum I just want to thank her for making me the strong and independent women I am today. I know without her love and guidance I would not be the person I am. I love you Mum.
As lovely as it is to get everything on your Christmas list and I know I've written my fair share of lists, at the end of the day presents really don't matter. It's the people you share it with and the memories you make, as cliched as that sounds it is true. So when people ask me this year what is on my Christmas list, my answer is always the same; 5 more minutes with my Mum, just 5 more minutes.