Mum’s deterioration was so sudden that we didn’t have a palliative care team organised for her. We were in hospital when the doctor told us things weren’t looking good but we were told to go home, and come back on Monday to try radiotherapy. Mum was tired and sick, but we got her home. She’d been in hospital for a while so while she was there I had rearranged her house. I’d gotten rid of things that suddenly lacked any importance and I’d organised and tidied everything. I remember feeling excited to show her because mums house was always a bit disorganised and she always said she wanted to sort it all out. I had a plan, I wanted her to feel peace in her home so we could tackle the “big road ahead.”
We didn’t talk about death. We didn’t plan for death. We planned for life, we planned the future. When she got home, I’d moved her bed downstairs and made her a cosy bedroom. On that first night back in her house, I gave her a buzzer which I told her to press if she needed anything throughout the night and I went home leaving her with my sisters who still lived at home. I had plans for the next day so I got back early, and was met with sadness as soon as I walked through the door. My sister told me mum had woken up calling my name in the night. My heart broke at the thought of her needing me and me not being there. I decided I was going to stay with her until she settled into a routine (or so I thought.) I went to the shop and spent a fortune on things I knew she’d love around the house. I’m explaining this because these mundane things show how completely clueless I was as to how my life was about to change irrevocably. I got back and found a woman I’d never seen before in mum’s house. I walked through the door smiling but that soon stopped when I saw the look on her face. She was looking at me with a look that I’ve seen so many times since.. a look of sadness, of sympathy, of awkwardness. She was the hospice nurse. I couldn’t understand why she was there when we’d just gotten home, but we sat down to talk. She told us that she saw death every day and that it was her job to measure how actively people were dying. It was the first time anyone had talked about death. She told us mum was close.
How could she be talking like this, about the most important person in my life, with such ease. I wanted to tell her that mum wasn’t like all those other people but I suddenly felt so small, so stupid. I had been in charge until this point. I’d guided mum through various options, been by her side at every appointment, researched and read every book under the sun that could help us.. and in that moment, all control was taken from me. She told us that mum had hours, maybe days at best and she said we needed to start preparing our goodbyes, fast. She had this look of complete disbelief that we didn’t have anything prepared. It was a job to her, but how could I suddenly say goodbye to someone who I’d been making life plans with and discussing future holiday options with, an hour earlier?! The ache in my heart as she said it is an ache that hasn’t left me since and I’m not sure it ever will. I understand entirely the word heartbreak because that’s exactly what it is. My heart has broken multiple times over the past couple of years and each time the ache left behind feels slightly different, slightly worse. The hospice nurse said her goodbyes and left us to ours. I breathed in and walked into mum’s room. I planned on talking to her about it all, I planned on telling her that it was okay if she didn’t want to fight anymore. Instead I walked into that room and tears tore down my face. Mum looked at me confused and asked what was wrong and all I could manage was “I’m just so sad..” she squeezed my hand and said “me too.”
I don’t know why, but I never managed to talk to her about it. We talked about everything but death. I thought I was being strong for her, talking about life, the future, the past, but never death. But since she died I’ve realised I was being the opposite of strong. I was scared, too scared to face the reality and too scared to break her heart. Although I believe now that she knew what was happening, at that time I just couldn’t bring myself to tell my mother “you’re going to die.”
As I write this I keep thinking “why am I writing all this” and truthfully, it’s because I need to. I find myself telling everyone about my mum and dad. The parents in my work, new people I meet, the delivery guy.. and I watch their awkward responses, but for me, it’s showing who I am now. It’s almost like my introduction. Those days changed me as a person and I want people to know how and why I am the way I am.
Whilst there are many aspects of myself that I wish I could go back to, and many things I wish I could change, the only positive that I can take from my loss is the realisation that your heart cannot break if it is not full. Whilst it is so cruel that those who love the most, hurt the most, the fact that I have loved and been loved is something that many people don’t get to experience. I am so grateful for the time I had with my family and I am so lucky to have had a mum who was not only my mother but my best friend and biggest ally. It has reminded me to openly tell people how much I love them in the moment. I take risks now that I maybe wouldn’t have taken before, I push myself out of my comfort zones because it allows me to feel new emotions, and I try to live as fully as possible. Some days I fail, but at least I’m trying. This is something I wish was common knowledge because it isn’t something that should be discovered after death. I’m not saying we all need to live in an idealistic world where we never take anyone for granted and sing love songs to each other all day long, but I’m saying, make sure the people you love, know it, deep down. Arguments and fall outs happen with the people we love, but in those final moments, they are forgotten and what matters is that you know that your loved one died.. knowing they were loved. In the end, it’s not about money, social ties, followers or weightloss… it’s about relationships and I honestly believe that being loved and showing love are the single most important counterparts in leading a fulfilling life. Trust me when I say that you will survive anything if your roots are grounded and your heart is strong.