So we are onto the third instalment of my It’s Good To Talk series … it’s been tough writing these but also quite therapeutic too. Today’s event that has had a massive impact on my life is the one that I find the hardest to deal with, and in reality, I don’t think I ever have really dealt with it and that’s the death of my lovely Mum.
Mum passed away on 18th January 2009 at 4,00am aged 56 (I was 26). In many ways it was a relief for her to go – she’d been through so much and she was exhausted and seeing her suffer was heartbreaking, so for her to be at peace was a blessing in many ways. At the same time, it was devastating for me and for my Dad and those who loved her.
Mum had had a difficult childhood with a mean, bad-tempered and often violent father. He’d wanted a son and got a daughter instead, so Mum spent her childhood knowing that she’d been a disappointment to him from the second she’d been born. He wouldn’t let her grow her hair and forced her into more masculine subjects at school when she was a creative person and had no interest in Science. When she was 15 her younger sister was born (the less said about her the better). The difference in how she was raised was like night and day. Horse riding lessons? No problem. Grow your hair long? Go ahead … it was hurtful to my Mum, although she’d spent a lot of her childhood with her grandparents who adored her.
Mum met Dad when she was 16 (I think he was 24 – not such a big deal back in the late 60s). At 19 she married him – when I asked her why she’d married so young, she said it was a way out. Don’t get me wrong, she loved my Dad, but the attraction at being able to leave that house was a big lure. When she was 21 she had my eldest brother, followed by the other son at 25 and me when she had just turned 30. We didn’t have a lot of money when we were kids, but we never went without anything – I had more toys than Geoffrey and we always had holidays … ok, so they might have been in little caravans, but I look back on them with many happy memories.
When I was 7, Dad left his job and they sold the house so we could move to Nottingham in order for Dad to go to theological college to train to be a vicar. Mum had always said that she had no wish to be a vicar’s wife, but she supported him and dealt with the constant uprooting that we went through over the next few years. She threw herself into her new, and unwanted role, as a vicar’s wife at whatever parish we ended up in and she put him first. Being a vicar doesn’t really pay that well, and Mum liked to shop … a lot, but again, she made sure that we had everything that we needed and wanted.
When I was about 10 and we were living in Norfolk, Mum had a nervous breakdown. I’d always known that she had dark days – days when I knew to ‘leave Mummy alone’, days when if I wanted a cuddle I went to my Dad, days when she stayed in bed and wouldn’t even speak to me. I just accepted it – and then one night, it all exploded. Mum had been a home carer and had recently moved into a management role with Social Services – a job that she found very stressful and wasn’t enjoying. She’d arrived home from work one evening and she wasn’t in the best of moods, but nothing worse than we’d ever seen before. We’d been sat eating our tea when my middle brother mentioned that it was Parent’s Evening. Suddenly a plate flew across the room. Gravy splattered everywhere as it hit the wall. Then another plate, and another … then mine (I remember being annoyed as I hadn’t finished), as Mum became hysterical. She was crying and screaming and making very little sense. My Dad quickly handed some money to my brothers and told them to take me out – he didn’t want me to be scared of my Mum.
For the next few months, Mum was different – closed off and not that interested in family life but thankfully, with the help of medication, she slowly started to return back to ‘normal’ and life carried on. We moved again, this time to Banbury in Oxfordshire and, once again, Mum played the vicar’s wife role to perfection. In 1999, she found a lump in her breast and went to see the doctor. She was told that it was simply a build up of caffeine and to cut back on the Coke and Coffee. In hindsight, she should have pushed for tests, but she was so relieved to be told it was nothing to worry about that she accepted what she was told. The cups of coffee were reduced and in came the Caffeine Free Coke and she put it to the back of her mind.
In 2000 we moved back to Lancashire and the lump was still there. Around the time of my 18th birthday, Mum was finally diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Life quickly become a new sort of normal for us – hospitals, scans, operations, medications – they became commonplace in our house. First there was a Lumpectomy but that didn’t work, so she had a Mastectomy. Tests revealed that the Cancer was in her Lymph Nodes, so she then had the other breast removed and Chemotherapy started, followed by an intense course of radiotherapy. Along with medication, this seemed to have done the trick and soon we were at the 5 year All Clear mark … and then it all changed. It seemed that as soon as they told her she was clear, the cancer returned. She had secondary Breast Cancer of the ovaries, so a hysterectomy was performed, and then over the next few years, it spread and spread. Her bones, her brain … it was attacking her.
One of the effects was that her lungs would fill with fluid, making it difficult for her to breathe. She had to go into hospital often to have the fluid drained, but the space in between hospital visits grew shorter and shorter and an oxygen machine was delivered to the house. At the start of December 2008, they decided to try chemo once again but she just wasn’t strong enough and it almost killed her. The doctors told her that it was time to get her affairs in order and we knew that she wasn’t going to beat this. Christmas that year was Hell – easily the worst one we’d ever had. I did the decorating, the shopping, the cooking and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Mum sat at the dinner table in her dressing gown looking bald and frail as she pushed her food around the plate. After lunch, she went to bed and I sat alone in my room sobbing.
In January, she was having to have her lungs drained more and more and she grew more and more frail. She’d come home from the hospital on the Friday and on the Saturday morning she announce that she wanted to go to Tesco and that she was driving. So off we went and when we arrived I got her an electric scooter to ride around the store. Seeing how much joy such a simple thing brought her has stayed with me. She filled up two trollies of food – looking back, I think that she knew she wouldn’t be there and wanted to make sure that we had all we needed without having to worry about going food shopping.
On the Monday evening, Mum was struggling to breathe and the oxygen machine wasn’t helping. It quickly got so bad that we had to call an ambulance and off she went to hospital. On the Wednesday morning we had a hospital bed delivered and installed in the living room and a few hours later an ambulance brought Mum home. She was sat in a wheelchair in her nightie (no dressing gown and this was January, so cheers for that Burnley General!), and she looked so frail, so small … and so confused. She didn’t know who we were or where she was. The paramedics said she was just tired and that she’d be fine later … they failed to tell us that she’d had a stroke – we wouldn’t find this out until the death certificate was issued. We got her into the hospital bed and she was just staring and when she did try to talk, the words were just jumbled and made no sense.
That night Mum managed to insist that she wanted to sleep in her own bedroom, so my Dad and I managed to get her upstairs. Mum loved her bedroom although her bed had been replaced with an electric bed so she could sit up when the fluid was bad. Mum and Dad were in separate rooms (my Dad has Sleep Apnoea and the noise of his snoring and his sleep machine would keep everyone awake), so Mum was alone all night. The next morning, we found her on the bedroom floor, stone cold and surrounded by faeces. We don’t know how long she’d been down there but she wasn’t able to shout for help – it eats away at me to know that whilst I was fast asleep, she was cold and scared on the floor. I called an ambulance and she was taken to hospital – she kept saying Sorry, she had nothing to apologise for. Nothing at all.
On the Saturday afternoon, I went to see her – she was barely conscious and didn’t seem to know what was going on. I held her hand, told her I loved her and told her to let go. She muttered that she loved me too, squeezed my hand and then went back to her semi-conscious state. At midnight we got a call from the hospital saying that her breathing had changed and that we needed to get there. Holding her hand as she took her last breaths was so bloody hard, but I’m glad that I was there. I’m glad that she died knowing how much my Dad and I loved her.
It’s been over 8 years since Mum died and it still hasn’t hit me. I never grieved properly – I didn’t get chance. Whilst my Dad fell apart, I went straight into organisation mode – planning her funeral, calling the insurers, her phone network, letting people know … anything other than sitting and grieving for my Mum. I do cry and I do find her birthday, Christmas, Mother’s Day, all of the occasions she should be here for, hard but there’s a weight inside me. A lump, a knot that never goes away. When I do cry for her, I make myself stop. When I do want to talk about how I’m feeling about her not being here, I stop myself. I don’t want to put those feelings onto other people, so I lock them away.
Everyone tells me that one day the grief will hit me out of the blue and that the longer it takes the worse it will be – this then gives me a genuine fear of letting myself grieve so the vicious cycle continues. It’s not healthy and it brings a kind of guilt with it too. Am I a cold person because I can’t mourn the loss of my Mum? Does it mean that I am a bad daughter? I don’t think it does. I loved my Mum, I still do, and every day she is in my thoughts. Every day I go to ring her – I still remember her mobile number – every day, I see things that I know she would like, and think that I should let her know. People tell me how like my Mum I am, and whilst there are similarities (the shopping addiction, the love of interiors, the bolshiness), I’m nowhere near the woman she was.
Mum was difficult, yes, but she was also bloody amazing and so strong and brave. I never saw her cry about the cancer – she was determined to beat it and she gave it a damn good try. Everyone who knew her loved her, and whilst she undoubtedly had her demons, she was a kind and loving woman. Yes, she had a bad start in life that definitely affected how maternal she could be at times, but never once did I doubt that she loved me. I was a difficult teenager, and I wasn’t easy to raise and one of her favourite sayings was this:
Angela, I might not always like you but never ever doubt that I always love you.
I think of all the things we never talked about, all the silly arguments we had and it all feels such a waste. She had so much more to give and some shitty disease took that from her and from us.
One day, I hope I can grieve and ease that knot inside of me, but time will never stop the ache in my heart or stop me from missing her.
I know some people don’t get their Mum for long, and that I am lucky to have had her for 26 years, and I will never not be grateful that she was my Mum.