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.