Monthly Archives: November 2014

First Pangs of Loss: Friday 28th November

I was in Boots, picking up some waterproof mascara for the funeral on Monday, and I overheard a girl bickering with her mother.

“Just say what you want then” she said, in an exasperated tone. Her mother mumbled something back and she said “Ok then. It’s not difficult. JEsus CHrist!”

Then it hit me. I was never going to argue with my mum ever again. I was never going to call her up to tell her my news, pre-empting it with “I know you’re not going to like this but…”.

My mum had deeply traditional views. She was educated by nuns in Northern Ireland, and although she had tried to escape their judgemental attitudes and threats of hellfire, brimstone, and general damnation, she still wasn’t a big fan of fornicating or homosexuality. Her dream for me was to marry some moderately rich, capable guy, who had a steady job and was good at filing tax rebates, like an accountant or a dentist. Financial stability was her obsession, and she would love for me to be with Mr. Collins as opposed to gambling on Mr. Darcy.

I believe that old JC (or Jesus Christ, as he’s known to the general public) was a socialist, leftie, egalitarian cool dude, who just wanted people to be nice to each other. I don’t think “homosexual” is synonymous with paedophile, and I 100% support gay rights, including adoption and marriage. I don’t believe in marriage and I don’t see a house and kids in my future. If I do have children, I want my partner to cut his hours and do his half of the child rearing. For me, marriage, with its inherent “forever” concept, was invented when women died in childbirth. I intend to live a long and healthy life, and to enjoy every moment.

So you can imagine our conflicts, our eventual stalemate. Towards the end, my mum mellowed considerably. Here’s a good example:

“So, I have something to tell you and you’re probably not going to like it but I don’t want to deceive you” I blurted, my heart pounding. I felt like I was jumping off a cliff. “After my six month trip, I’m going to Bilbao, and I’m moving in with Yoann”.

There was a prolonged pause.

“Oh.” she said. “Is that it? I thought you were already living together and just hadn’t told me”.

Oh Mother. You were always one step ahead.

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Being Kept Busy: Tuesday 26th November

When someone dies, you are at your least capable, but this is when you have the most shit to do. Here’s all the stuff we needed to do, as Mum died at home.

>Get partners to post funeral clothes.

>Ask family members if they want to be contacted by email or by phone.

>Contact family members.

>Call nurse to verify death. Nurse gives you a certificate.

>Call a funeral home to take the body away and discuss date for ceremony.

>Give GP that cert so they can write another cert.

>Take that cert to the registry office (you only have 5 days to register a death, and you can’t make an appointment until you have the numbers from the GP)

>Decide what to do with body (burial, cremation…scattering? bury the ashes?)

>Choose flowers.

>Choose hymns.

>Choose order of service cards for guests.

>Chat with person who is leading service.

>Choose music.

>Talk to deceased’s solicitor

>Talk to neighbour about getting the house ready for sale.

>Check car insurance: how long is grace period? (I was a named driver on my Mum’s insurance. Turned out I could only drive the car for 7 days after she had died)

>talk to vicar about service

>Research local venues: do they have space? do they offer a buffet?

All this, while your brain feels foggy and you struggle to take a pizza out of the freezer and put it in the oven.

Still, the grief books I’ve been reading say that this time is not the “hardest” as you’re: in shock so it hasn’t hit yet, have a tonne of stuff to do to keep you’re mind off it, and people are still being nice to you.

Sorry Your Mum’s Dead Cards: Monday 24th November, 3 days after

It was the day after Mum’s death, and my sister had suggested we mark the occasion with going out for a meal; we hadn’t been able to go out for the past month as we wanted to spend as much time with Mum as possible.

So out we went; my sister, my boyfriend, and a very close friend of mine who was in town for the night visiting. The food was wonderful and we ate and chatted. I spoke briefly about the stresses of the past two weeks and my shock and disbelief, and enjoyed hearing about things other than that topic, like my friend’s uni course and general gossip. It felt good to talk about things other than Mum’s situation.

When we had finished the meal, my friend said “I’ve got something for you”. She pulled out a card. I opened it.”Look Yoann” I said to my partner. “It’s a sorry-your-mum’s-dead card”.

I’m not sure if I was surprised to receive the card because it’s such a British thing to give cards (and I’ve lived outside of the UK for four years now), or if it was just part of the general shock of the whole ordeal. I was lucky that the first card was from such a close friend, as I think a casual acquaintance might have freaked out at my glib reaction.

My sister printed a note to the neighbours, explaining that Mum had passed away and thanking anyone who had helped her, inviting them to the funeral. The week before the funeral was punctuated by rustles at the door, wordless cards stealthed through the letterbox by people who wanted to pay their condolences but didn’t want to intrude.

“Sorry your mum’s dead card!” I proclaimed when I heard the letter box open. Sometimes they were just publicity leaflets, but it gave me and my sister a chuckle anyway. Our dark sense of humour comes from Mum.

Disbelief: Sunday 23rd November, 2 days after

I can’t believe that my mum is dead.

For the past six months, I’ve called her every day, sometimes twice a day. I’ve spent at least two weeks a month at her house.

When my mum was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, my whole life changed. Things that had seemed so important before (Spanish class, getting Spanish people not to hate me with the fire of a thousand sols, going out, friends, work, weddings, being vegetarian) just sort of faded away. I just started to think “A tomar por culo”, “I don’t give a crap”. I just didn’t have the energy, about everything. I had bigger fish to fry.

I stayed in and watched box sets that I had illegally downloaded. Breaking Bad, The Following, Orange is the New Black, Girls, Once Upon a Time, Sleepy Hollow, The Wire…I was sick of hearing happy people complain about normal things, like their boss, weight, hair, or not having money. “My mum is dying” I wanted to say. Although I felt I couldn’t say that as it wasn’t fair, and would cause social awkwardness. I know that feeling, when someone starts to talk about something awful that I know nothing about, and I think “Shit, what do I say? How to I fill this ever growing silence? Say something, quick!” and then I just blurt out something ridiculous like “Have you tried this cheese?”.

I got stressed out. My shoulders cramped, I couldn’t move my neck. I started to have panic attacks. My brain stopped working. I started reading books with pictures; art books, graphic novels. Almost nothing in foreign languages anymore. My brain seemed to have lost that capacity, hopefully temporarily. I was scared.

Now she’s gone, what do I do? My whole life, my mother has been my compass. Everything she said not to do, I did, with gusto. I dyed my hair a thousand colours until it fell out. I volunteered my ass off, working for free ever since my first student loan freed me from the need to have a minimum wage job. I swore (and still do) like a sailor. I play poker, beat all the boys, and rub it in their faces. I’ve never dated someone for their wealth. I prefer trousers to skirts.

And she was still so, so proud of me. Anything I did half well was some kind of miraculous marvel of wonderment. My mum always thought the sun shone out of my rear, even/especially in the face of evidence to the contrary.

I never appreciated her until she was dying. I never forgave her and accepted her as an imperfect person who always tried to do her best, until the last years of her life. I suppose the young judge their elders harshly, until they get to that age where they are expected to do all the “adult things” and they are like “Oh. This shit is actually quite difficult and tiresome”, and they realise that actually being a child with no responsibility had it’s up side, and that having the keys to the house and the car means you have to pay the bills too.

I’ve asked my sister if she can disapprove of me and she has said that she will try but I doubt that it will be the same. You really never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

The Day After Mum’s Death: Saturday 22nd November 2014

Mum’s decline over the past few weeks has been rapid. From not being able to get out of bed unaided, to needing two people to move her, to not being able to lift the water bottle with the straw  to her mouth, to taking fluids from a syringe that she operated, to needing someone else to do that for her. When she was awake, I was in her room, and when she wasn’t, I was flitting about, making ice lollies and cleaning and tidying, just to keep busy. “Can I get you anything Mum?” I said. “A new body and a new life” she replied calmly.

I mourned every stage, every deterioration, every ability lost. Sometimes Mum noticed, and said things like: “Why am I so much weaker today than yesterday?” or “I don’t think I’m ever going to get out of this bed”. Eventually she was so morphined up that everything was “lovely”. The last word she said to me was “marvellous”.

In some ways, I wanted her to be released from her pain. I know that it’s better/kinder this way; now she won’t suffer anymore. But then I feel guilty as she never expressed any thoughts in that direction. She savoured her life until the very last breath.

Mum fell asleep on Tuesday, and passed away on Friday (yesterday). After a long few weeks of trying to support her as best I could, I thought her death wouldn’t affect me so much; I thought I would be prepared. But I still feel shocked. I just can’t believe she is no longer here.

Getting Used to it: Sunday 16th November

It’s amazing how you can get used to something.

I arrived 7 days ago, when they had just put in the syringe driver (electronic morphine drip). It was surreal and heart breaking to see Mum truly bedbound, eyes open but unseeing. At first she could hold a bottle of water with a straw in, but now she doesn’t have the energy for that. I put the syringe of water in her hand, guide her hand to her mouth. I’ve cut sponges into mouthfuls so she can have a bit of moisture in her mouth when she doesn’t have the energy to swallow.

When she’s sleeping, I sit at the computer, clean the kitchen, do a jigsaw puzzle. I can’t really concentrate on complicated things, like reading the paper, or doing a crossword. I can’t make it more than a few paragraphs before I think suddenly “I must do that thing for Mum”. I got some graphic novels from the library and am reading them slowly, looking at the pictures. It is so draining sitting by her bed, bringing her ice pops, holding her hand, chatting and keeping my voice bright (or at least even). By 10pm, when the night carer arrives, I am a wreck.

I started editing the blog posts when I arrived 7 days ago. The activity kept me going, and the writing is therapeutic. It’s a way of listening to myself, when what I would really like to do is distract myself from the pain of the situation; burying my head in the pillow, hiding under the covers. But I can’t run anymore. Mum needs me to be strong now.

The kind response from family and friends has been truly amazing. I hope that what I’ve written, so honestly, helps other people in this situation (both present and future). It has helped me in the present.

 

 

Anxiety dissipates, and gratitude: Saturday 15th November

One positive of the situation is that my anxiety levels have reduced dramatically since the syringe driver was installed. I used to feel like a taught string on a bow, vibrating with tension, and sometimes there would be a vice on my chest (when I spoke Spanish with people I didn’t know, or when I was driving). Both were activities in which I had had traumatic experiences and got a little nervous, but that on top of my baseline stress was almost intolerable.

An image would run through my mind, like the other car at the cross roads not stopping at the red light, or someone being really aggressive and rude to me for being foreign (both experiences that were real memories) and then my body would produce adrenalin and I would start to sweat as the vice would close and I would struggle to breathe. It was a waking nightmare.

Now I feel weirdly calm doing those things. It’s almost like some unconscious part of my mind is like: What’s the worst that can happen? Answer: It’s already happened.

Mum dreaded being in bed, asking people for help, strangers doing things for her. Now that she is on so  much morphine, she doesn’t really seem to mind about anything at all. She’s not in pain (which was something I had dreaded) and she lies serenely with her little air bed humming away beneath her. She tells us she feels like a little bird in a nest, and she dutifully opens her mouth for water and juice, saying “That’s lovely that. That’s really nice. I’m so glad you’re here”.

I’m glad that I’m here too. This has been the hardest week of my life, the hardest year. We were lucky that we got to spend time together when Mum was well, and that I can be here now. We are lucky to get to say goodbye.