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The Girl with the Daffodil Tattoo

A Welsh girl let loose in a wild world

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mother daughter relationship

Music, Death, Life, and Lindy

A few months before my Mum died, I put some music on Spotify, and my mum said: “Ah great, I love jazz”. She told me about how as a student in Belfast, she used to go to jazz events in a hotel in the city by herself because her friends weren’t into the music but she was. I’d known her my whole life, lived with her for 18 years, and I never knew that she liked that type of music. I suppose that she was a private person, and I was a difficult teenager (which she always refuted, but I know I was a complete twat), but still. I felt grateful then that she was dying of cancer, and that we still had a few precious moments left together when she was (relatively) well.

In the last few weeks of her life, when she was bed bound, we put on playlist after playlist of jazz music (she also loved Abba and the Bee Gees, but those didn’t really seem appropriate). “Which music shall we ruin now?” we joked, knowing that this music would be forever linked in our minds to watching our mother get weaker and weaker, eyes glassy with morphine, smiling when she heard our voices.

She’s been gone two months now, and I miss her like crazy. I’m incapable of going to weddings (I’ve declined 3 invitations thus far, and will probably not be going to another two) because I just can’t bear the thought of her not being there to watch me tie the knot, disapproving of everything  but also quietly, fiercely proud of the woman I’ve become.

My boyfriend and I enrolled in a Lindy Hop class in January. We dance to the swing music, which we both love, and I think about my mum. I feel close to her then, and I know that I’m doing something that she never did but would have enjoyed before she got sick. I don’t dance perfectly, but I dance for her.

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.

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.

Sleep Walking: Friday 14th November

The carers come at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and then the night carer comes 10pm till 7am. They are bright and cheerful, and tell us to freeze diluted pineapple juice for Mum’s dry, sore mouth.

I try to spend an hour “on” and an hour “off”, meaning I spend 1 hour doing things Mum related which varies depending on how conscious she is, or if one of us or a carer is in there with her (Tesco order, making ice pops, tidying Mum’s room, sitting with Mum). By 8pm at night I am exhausted both physically, and emotionally.

It’s harder to be in the room when the carers are there. I feel very conflicted. They are lovely, and kind, but I know in my heart that if Mum were herself (e.g. not on so much morphine) she would hate them calling her by her first name and needing someone to help her do things. She also says things like “Why can’t I…do this. I could… yesterday”. She has no idea that this is the end. She had gotten her affairs in order (there’s a folder full of bits of paper in the kitchen) some months ago, but, paradoxically, she never accepted that she had a terminal illness. Ever. Not even when the cancer came back and the oncologist said “six months”.

I think of her as a sleep walker. It’s easier that way.

I talk to Mum. She’s able to respond to yes and no questions. Sometimes she has enough energy to say words, or short sentences. She mainly says “Thank you” and “I love you too”. When I leave the room, I make sure she has a syringe full of cold ice water in her hand, ready in case she wakes up and feels thirsty while I’m not there. I often pop back in and she has it in her mouth, sipping slowly. I refill it with fresh cold water for her.

“Move the ice water bowl closer, so I can refill it next time” she says. “Ok Mum” I say. She has trouble getting the syringe into her mouth by herself, because of the morphine distorting her depth perception, and she struggles to push down the plunger. (Filling it has taken some practice for me. It requires a steady hand, which I don’t have reliably at the moment.) I move the bowl closer to her anyway.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, and I go out for a walk. I go down the country lanes, and I focus on how green the fields are. I wear sunglasses so no one can see my puffy eyes, and the pain trapped in my head.

Other times I sit at the computer, listening to my sisters and brother-in-law chatting and doing crosswords, my ears straining to hear a change in Mum’s breathing. When I hear the change I go into the room, and she says to me “Good morning” and I say “Morning Mum”. She turns her head, ready for a kiss.

“Can I get you anything?” I say and she usually says “Iced water please”. So I empty the liquid from the syringe in her hand (which is at room temperature) and I draw fresh cold water from the bowl of ice by the bed. “Hand” I say, as I place it in her soft thin hand. “Hand to mouth now” as I guide the syringe in her hand to her mouth.

“That’s lovely that” she says. “Is that just water?”

“Yes” I say. “Just iced water. I’m glad I can do something for you”

Sometimes she’s too tired. She says “Iced water”, so I fill the syringe, and I squirt about 3 ml of water in her mouth. She could handle 5ml yesterday, swallowing it slowly, but in one go. That amount makes her cough now because swallowing is becoming more and more difficult.

I say “Ready?” and she opens her mouth. I squirt the 3 ml in, and say “Now close”. Then I say “Now swallow”. I make sure she swallows while I’m there as I don’t want her to cough, splutter, too tired to sit up or turn to tip the water out. I learned today that the medical term for that is “aspirate”.

Hideous Normality: Tuesday 11th November

Some nurses came to transfer Mum to a hospital bed. It’s inflatable with a control to alter head and leg incline. Apparently it’s much more comfortable.

The nurses were chatting to each other, and to Mum, as if this were a normal day and a normal situation. One commented how she hadn’t seen Mum in about 2 years. Mum confirmed it. “Yes, when all this started” she said. The other started chatting to me, asking me questions to see if we had met. Her face seemed so familiar. She asked me if I was the daughter who lived in Spain. I struggled to form a coherent sentence.

Sheets for the new bed? I’ll get them. These lilac ones are nice… Ah, but they’re worn and bobbly. Which one’s are the best? Which ones would Mum like to die on?

Have to get out. Have to get out. Shoes, shoes. Where are my shoes? Avoid everyone else. Don’t let them see you’re upset. Don’t be weak. Everyone feels sad but no one else is crying. Don’t be a burden on them. Phone, phone, where’s my phone. Got to get out of this place. Can’t breathe.

I left the house without my phone. The pressure in my chest was too great. I walked for about 10 minutes, to a gate in a hedge. I’d often stopped there on my walks, admiring the view of the Cheshire plains.

I leant on the gate and let go, letting the tears run down my face, leaning in to the sobs . Trying to keep it in is like trying to stop a tsunami sometimes. I’ve found that letting it out, getting it over and done with in controlled bursts, makes carrying on doing daily tasks easier.

I came back to the house, feeling tired but refreshed. It turned out that one of the nurses used to go to Guides, that’s why I recognised her. I must have seen her when I was small, watching my sisters with the older girls. And now, 20 years later, she’s helping my mum into her last bed.

Mum looked a lot more comfortable in the hospital bed. She slept peacefully until the next carer came.

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