Mum had been back and forward to the doctors over the years with persistent heartburn and bad coughs but otherwise, she was healthy, and to look at you’d never have known what was going on inside of her. She NEVER complained. A lump appeared on her neck in October 2014, she questioned it but was told lymphnodes swell at this time of the year, when you’re run down, feeling the cold etc. Despite this, she pushed for tests. We received a phone call whilst on a day out with my kids in our local science museum. That phone call will never ever leave me, because for the first time, I saw my mum cry, in public, not out of sadness but out of pure relief. That phone call told us my mum did not have cancer, that phone call told us that there was nothing to worry about. That phone call made my strong, beautiful mother, burst into tears, and through her tears she said “I’m just so relieved that I get to watch these two grow up..” pointing at my twin 1 year olds, her grandchildren.
They were wrong. The results were wrong, the doctor was wrong. 2 months later my mum was given a terminal diagnosis. She was dying.. only.. she wasn’t, not in her eyes, not in mine. She wasn’t going to accept that diagnosis, she was going to fight, and fight she did. For 11 months she fought to within an inch of her life. I’ll write another blog on how she did it, but for the rest of my life I will be so grateful for the fact that she didn’t give up. She showed me her strength, and together we grew together, as mother and daughter, as friends, as warriors. That one year opened my eyes more than I ever thought possible. I saw that small miracles happen every day, that we are so lucky to live the lives we do. She taught me to appreciate everything, to love more than I knew possible. She showed me how lucky I had been to have had her as my mentor and mother for 25 years. In that one year, I grew up. I was already a mother, an adult, but that year changed me forever.
I got through the funeral. I read words off a piece of paper and don’t even remember what I said. I got through the sleepless nights where her face would appear every time I closed my eyes. I got through the nightmares, I got through my children begging for my attention when all I wanted to do was collapse in a heap, I got through the awkward smiles from friends who didn’t know what to say, I got through the lack of communication from people I thought would have been by my side. I picked myself up and I made a promise to my dad, I promised I’d help him. I promised I’d be there for him, I promised I loved him and I promised I’d save him.
My dad had Parkinson’s disease. He was diagnosed when I was much younger, so it was a disease we’d come to live with. Unlike cancer, the word didn’t fill me with dread, but he struggled. His life was hard. Him and mum had a funny relationship, but my dad absolutely adored her. He drove her a little bonkers, but she would never have not been by his side when he needed her, be that 2 am when he’d frozen up at a music venue and needed help getting home. Or when the police had taken him in because they’d seen him stumbling out of an event and presumed he was drunk (he didn’t ever drink.)
So when the one safety net in his life was torn from beneath him, he fell. I watched him cry every day, I listened to him say he didn’t want to live without her. I shouted at him telling him that he better bloody live because he wasn’t allowed to leave me. After he died, a lot of people asked me if he’d killed himself. If he couldn’t cope without her, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t the first thought that came into my head when the police hammered my door at 4am to tell me he was gone. But he hadn’t. He would never have made that choice. He would never have orphaned his daughters. My dad’s body was weak but his mind was strong. He was fiercely loyal. He wanted to live, he wanted to be our dad, he wanted to continue to raise strong courageous daughters.
The first few months after mum’s death, we cried. I’d go to his house and find him sobbing uncontrollably over old videos he’d filmed of mum and us. I’ll never really know why, but those videos didn’t make me sad, they made me smile, but for him, the memories hurt. All I could do was listen, and talk. So that’s what I did, we talked about the incredible life they had both given me and my sisters growing up, the places we’d travelled, the stupid arguments we’d had through my teen years. We found strength in each other and we came up with a plan to tackle his Parkinson’s. I researched cures, alternatives. I looked into dietary changes and contacted people who had written articles and blogs with suggestions. I contacted charities who could provide support, and slowly I started to see a change in him.
His friend has since told me that he noticed the change after my dad told him that he knew I was fighting for him, that I needed him and he was right, whilst I was doing it for him, I was also doing it for me, because I needed him.
The night before I got the news, I was in his house. I’d had daily fresh meals being delivered to him so we’d sat talking about how good for him they were. He said he was enjoying them, but I could 100% tell that my dad was point blank lying to me, and as soon as I left he was going to raid the cupboards for chocolate or something sweet, but that was okay because he was trying, and it was all part of our plan to tackle his health holistically. I told him I’d be back at 9am as I’d arranged for a lady from a Parkinson’s support charity to come and meet us to talk about ways she could help and I took his diary and wrote it in. I noticed that the coming week was quite full, and he got excited telling me about that plan’s he’d made with old friends, and projects he was going to work on in the future. He was looking forward and I left smiling that evening, because of it.
I woke up to the banging on the door. I was paralysed with fear and I begged my husband to go downstairs. He says the fear had gripped him too, because we both just knew something wasn’t right. I went down and saw police at my door and I crumbled. Their words made no sense to me and I just screamed at them that they couldn’t do this to me. That I’d just lost my mum and I needed my dad. His words will never ever leave me, “It’s just one of those things…”
No, it’s not “one of those things”. It’s the unthinkable. Your parents are supposed to get old, and see their grandchild grow up. They’re supposed to bail you out of situations, and give you advice on how to grow up. They’re supposed to cook you dinner when you’ve had a fall out with your husband and you just want to moan to someone who won’t judge. They’re supposed to annoy you with their “parenting tips” which I’d give anything to hear. They’re supposed to be your constant. Your parents can’t fall out of love with you, they are your fall back option if life choices don’t work out. The loneliness I felt after losing them was unbearable. I had my children, my husband, my friends but I was so lonely.. I was suddenly the “adult” that was supposed to have the answers and there was no one above me.
I’ve fought hard to let go of the anger I felt afterwards. The anger that no one diagnosed mum earlier, that things were missed, that she was wrongfully given false results over the phone. The anger that my dad’s care team didn’t pick up on heart problems, and in fact, had said he was overreacting when he said he felt like his heart was going to explode. I have thrown myself into raising awareness and campaigning for early diagnosis, for prevention, for alternatives. I’ve used my anger and bitterness to push back on policy, on cuts, on false advertising. Why? Because my mum asked me to. She told me to let go of my anger and my frustration, because it wouldn’t change anything, it would only manifest itself within my own body and she was right. For a while I couldn’t let go, I lay awake dreaming of what I would say to those doctors if I could go back, I screamed at my husband that life wasn’t fair, I lost my temper at my children so many times and I was sick. I was losing weight, losing my hair, I caught every illness going around and I felt exhausted. I still haven’t completely conquered it, but I know what I need to do, and I’m slowly pathing the way for it.