For me becoming a grown-up wasn’t when I reached puberty (and that’s definitely a blog in itself), not when I was 18, when I married or when I had my first baby. It was when my mum died 6 years after dad and I realised I was no longer anyone’s “child”.
Mum was a “child” until a year before she died. Her father lived to be 95, mum died just after her 74th birthday. She may have been an old lady to many but when you saw her dad looking disapprovingly at her having one birthday drink too many you knew that at 70 she was still his child!
When your last parent dies there’s no-one “above” you. You are the next generation. You face your own mortality.
Mum’s dying wasn’t expected but wasn’t entirely unexpected either. Those who knew her know that mum loved nothing more than a wee stay in hospital and had a medical file that would make War and Peace look like a short story. Yet she was busy, vibrant, always on the go.
She had a brain hemorrhage a week before her birthday and three days after her birthday they took us aside to tell us there was nothing more that could be done.
Now in movies they tell you your loved one is dying and has 24/48 hours to live then they die roughly on schedule. Don’t expect “real-life” death to be like this. We we told on a Monday morning that mum was going to die. It wasn’t until the following Monday night/Tuesday morning at just after midnight that mum left us.
When I was told she was dying I knew what I needed to do! Mum had never got over dad dying. I was determined she would feel content that she was going to join him. I gathered together photos of them both and made a little slideshow to “their” tune. “Save the last dance for me”. I uploaded it to my iPad and if mum’s eyes opened at all I held the iPad in front of her and played this to her. There was no response but I wasn’t expecting any….Well not for the first 24 hours. The second day and on about the 30th play mum looked from the screen to me and asked “What the hell are you doing now?”
“Don’t you like it?” I asked shocked at how lucid she was.
“No I do not!” She admonished and then closed her eyes again.
That week was such a combinations of sadness and comedy.
One of mum’s elderly friends came to see her. She’d been warned mum was rarely conscious but she still broke down sobbing when she saw her. Again mum opened her eyes.
“You look terrible” she said to her friend “Look at the ugly face on you”
Tact was never mum’s strength so why change now?
Mum rarely wakened but when she did the one thing certain to bring a light to her eyes was if she caught sight of my youngest son who was 24 at the time. Mike had the patience of a saint with mum and he also looked very like my dad. She obviously wanted to tell him something. She would ask him to come close and then she would mutter gobbledygook at him. Try as he might he couldn’t tell what she was saying. I tried leaning in closely to hear what she was saying but she looked at me and said clearly “I want Michael not you” I moved back, Mike leaned over and again he got the gobbledygook. He nodded and told her that it was fine, he understood.
We all took turns to sit with mum once we realised that she was planning to get as much out of this as she could. She was never distressed and the staff kept her free from pain.
As the time went on I found it harder and harder to leave her. I finally realized that this time sitting in the hospital was the only time I had left with her so every single second counted because once it was gone including get it back.
I sat beside mum that last night watching “Call the midwife” on my iPad.
It reminded me how mum to bed to talk about the week she spent in labour with me and the difficult birth she had. Once a consultant talking to her asked if she had any idea what the route of her medical problem might be. She told him she had had a very difficult time giving birth. He glanced at me (45 at the time) and said “I’d have thought you’d have made a recovery by now.”
Mum waited a week in hospital to bring me into this world. How fitting that I waited a week to be with her as she left. The circle was complete. I was now officially a grown-up.