I have thought a lot about whether to post about this. I have decided that although my blog is “mostly about sewing”, that means it is not all about sewing, so I can share whatever I want here – and I just kind of want to get this down in writing.
So, if you’re not interested in posts which are nothing to do with sewing just skip this one.
In January this year my mum, Rosemary was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. In July she died. For the first three months we thought that there was something could be done; the first suggestion was chemo followed by an operation, then they decided to skip the chemo, then they realised – on the operating table – that the tumour was too large, too embedded and they could not remove it. By now she was too weak from the surgery to undergo chemo. If she could get stronger there might be a chance, but she was unable to eat enough to even maintain her weight, let alone regain her strength.
I am lucky in that I live an hour’s drive from my parents’ home, and my partner and I have our own business, so I was able to take a lot of time off for hospital and home visits and to just spend as much time as I could with Mum.
My brothers are not so lucky; they both have “proper” jobs and live further away (one of them in Canada), so could not just drop by or visit for a day or two.
But though I would not have wanted it any other way, I’ve got to tell you it was exhausting. I was spending most of the time at my parents, popping home occasionally to catch up with JB and Tash and I would realise on the drive back that I was just worn thin. It wasn’t that I was doing much; a bit of cleaning or gardening, maybe, but most of the time was just spent trying to engage Mum in anything.
In some ways, that was the hardest thing; she stopped living long before she died. And I am not saying “she just gave up, she should have fought it”; she just had no energy and no hope (not helped by the fact she had also seen her brother die of the same type of cancer 4 years ago) and her world shrunk to the size of their living room. It is not that I wanted her to be putting on a brave face and constantly cheery (no more did she want that of me), but it did seem important that she had some small joys in whatever time she had left. So dad and I would nag and cajole and persuade her to do the crossword, or sit in the garden and supervise my inexpert weeding, or just get in the car and go for a drive. We did a small thing each day, which made us all feel (a little) better.
My brothers and I wrote the eulogy together for Mum’s funeral, through which we laughed and cried for days, making inappropriate jokes of which she would have strongly approved. What made Mum special and unique and frankly one of the best people I have ever known was not found in her deeds or her CV and was difficult to capture in words. She was a teacher before we were all born, then she stayed home with us, then she worked in a toyshop. She did not write or paint or sculpt (though she was very good at the first two), she did not volunteer with the homeless, start her own theatre company or trek the Amazon basin. She was beautiful and unassuming and had the best sense of humour, though she was not one of life’s comics. She could be the quietest person in a room, yet her presence was felt by everybody. Her life could not be told in achievements, but she was active and generous and funny and she had a gift for making people feel better.
Although it was a long six months of watching her gradually fade, I am glad to say that she was not in pain for most of it. She had some discomfort and she was tired and out of sorts, and I cannot imagine how she can have felt knowing that she was dying, but the awful, awful end was mercifully short; She went up to bed OK on Tuesday, but was unable to get up on Wednesday morning. Happily both of my brothers were on the way (though dad and I had told them there was no hurry the night before!), so the whole family was together by Wednesday afternoon. Mum was on pain medication and was beginning to drift in and out of consciousness, but she knew we were all there and we all sat in the bedroom with her, telling stories and reminiscing together. On Thursday the lucid moments were few and brief. She was very distressed a lot of the time. It was a harrowing and surreal day for us all. At 12.15 on Friday morning she died.
I know that it is not unusual to lose a parent at this age. I’ve been on this earth for 45 years now and for much of that time I have known that one day I would have to deal with the death of my parents. I don’t think there is anyway you can ever really prepare for it, though.
But I am grateful for so much. Grateful that I had a full 45 years of knowing her – many are not so lucky. Grateful that we all had the time and the opportunity to say goodbye. Grateful that she did not have to live with the knowledge of her own end for years and that she was not in pain for long. Grateful for my family and how close it has brought us all, and grateful for my friends and their unending support. But most of all I am just grateful that she was my mum and for all she taught me about being a human being.
Thanks, mum. I miss you x