Diehards

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

One Year On

April 10th 2006: I awake feeling refreshed and it's 8.30 I can't work out at first why 8.30 seems like a lie in. Then I go downstairs and my two sisters are there drinking coffee and I remember, 'the hospital didn't phone' I say. Angela, the sister whose house this is, answers 'no, she must have slept well.' We all nod.

As I make tea for myself and proceed to drink it, the other two get showered and dressed. When it comes to my turn in the bathroom there is no hot water left. Angela throws a switch, 'it'll only take half an hour' she says kindly. Then she suggests that she and Elsa go on ahead, I can catch them up in my own car as soon as I'm ready. I am relieved to be left alone for even half an hour, we've been holed up together for weeks.

After showering I dry my hair, trying to make it look as groomed as possible. I then apply a little make-up, not too much, wanting to look elegant, in control, rather than attractive. I put on my tweed skirt, a black polo-neck sweater, heels; then downstairs grab my mac and bag and head out the door.

This is the morning of the great meeting: all the consultants are getting together to discuss whether my mother is strong enough to undergo a biopsy. Oncology, surgery, medical, elderly care all departments represented. There is a growth the size of a newborn's head in her lower abdomen. It's so large they can't tell, merely with scans, from where it emanates: bowel, bladder or colon. It just seems to fill them all. Ten thirty, we all want to be there by then to hear the news. To affect it.

I arrive at her ward and ring the bell, am buzzed in. A nurse comes to meet me 'this way m'dear' she guides me by the elbow to the office. I am positive, almost euphoric: something is finally being decided and I will be in on it, I will get to say my piece. I almost burst into the office and there turn to me, not a group of unknown middle aged men but three sad brown faces. I feel my face fall and my brother, for he has come too, rushes to hug me and I feel him convulse with loss. I crumple a little as I try to make sense of the scene: this is not what I was expecting at all. The multiplicity of feelings is discomfitting. Guilt, relief, anger, loss, a sort of odd, empty confusion. But there's also what seems to be joy... That she is no longer in that terrible pain that she is free at last. We go to see her body and she looks so much bigger, smoother, brighter. No longer wizened with unrelenting agony and morphine and fear. Now it has sunk in, a little, relief is what I feel the most, relief for her and also for us. I kiss her on her newly smoothed forehead and she is still warm, receptive even.

She died, not in her sleep but in the morning during a bed-bath; my brother hovering outside the curtains waiting to say good morning. He'd been there for over an hour but hadn't seen her awake. She had slept in for the first time in weeks, maybe years.

We had to wait for the coroner's report to find out what had killed her. A tumour that began in her colon but got so big it burst through walls of flesh and tissue into her bladder and bowel. How had we not known about this earlier?

One year on I think she didn't want us to know, maybe she didn't want to to know herself. Not the details anyway, I'm pretty sure she was aware that she was dying and she was ready for it. She had come to terms with her own mortality. Now I am relieved that the doctors didn't get to interfere with her anymore. That's not to say that I don't miss her, just that I think for her dying was the better option. It is, after all, part of the cycle of life and if she accepted that then so must I.

11 comments:

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

I'm so sorry. It never really goes away altogether, of course, but anniversaries bring it all back.

I bet your mother knew how much she was loved by her family, right to the end.

Eryl Shields said...

Thank you Sam, I hope she did. You're right anniversaries kind of high-jack you even though you know they're coming.

Kim Ayres said...

Yeah, anniversaries can really hit hard. My thoughts are with you.

Mary Witzl said...

My mother died of colon cancer too, in 1981, and the anniversary was yesterday. I still miss her so much.

Death is something we are all forced to accept, whether we like it or not. I always liked what the writer William Saroyan said on his deathbed -- that he knew everyone had to die but he'd always privately hoped that an exception would be made in his case. I think a lot of us can't really imagine death and its awful finalty until it takes someone we love.

It does get a little easier to bear, but you never really get over losing someone you love. I just wish I'd been consulted when the whole business of death and dying was conceived. But I'll bet a lot of people think they could have come up with a better plan...

Eryl Shields said...

Kim - Thank you.

Mary - It's that finality that's the brute. I will now never be able to ask my mother for her fruitcake recipe, something I always meant to do but never got round to. It's silly things like that that can drive me doolally at times.

Your mother must have been very young when she died. At least mine was 79 so our relationship was concluded if that's a suitable way to put it. I don't feel short-changed as you must do. Condolences.

Mary Witzl said...

I remember just after my mother died, my sisters and I were sitting with our aunt and uncle and someone happened to mention a quote from a poem. None of us could remember it perfectly, and my aunt said 'We should ask Kathleen' (my mother). And of course we realized we couldn't, and we began to understand that she had taken so much with her. She knew dozens of epic poems, ballads and stories, and no one else knew them as well as she did. Now I try to pass on as much as possible to my kids so that they won't lose all of that when I die...

Ooh, maudlin -- and I didn't intend for this to be.

Kanani said...

Hi, I saw you on Mary's blog, who posted on my blog, and I'm not sure how she found me. ;0)

But I'm very sorry over the loss of your mother. I lost mine in 1998, and still feel her loss, most regrettably when I look at my children and wish they had gotten to know her.

Eryl Shields said...

Mary ~ It's a maudlin (great word) subject. I think it's about time I organised my next post. Unfortunately it looks set to be just as grim.

Kanani ~ Hello and welcome. Thank you very much for your kind comment. I'm sure your children will know your mother through you. That's the beauty of life, it continues through our children even when our bodies give up.
I will pop over and visit your blog right now.

Carole said...

I so enjoyed how you expressed your thoughts in this blog. It touched my heart.

Eryl Shields said...

Oh, Carole thank you.

Philip said...

It's 2009 now, and some time after this post I'm commenting on. Like I said before I started reading you just before you stopped. So - I've gone back to start, and I'm very much enjoying it. Lovely tender post about your mother -thanks. Please start blogging again. There'll be loads like me that will be pleased to see it. Anyway, I must get back to 2007, 2010 is just round the corner....