I am about to embark on an experience I have always dreaded. All my life, losing my mum was was vista I imagined to be full of horror and devastation. But now that it is here, it is a strangely enriching and comforting experience.
My mum is now actively dying, and while I always thought of that as a moment I would focus on the horror of watching that last breath, I realise instead I am spending my days focusing on her smile, on singing her songs, on holding her hand. And in a way I know now that the last breath is nowhere near as important as all the ones before it.
She is home, safe and secure in her own things, surrounded by her family, with friends dropping round.
This is such a privilege. To be here, to care for her, to see the love on her face, to be a part something so important which is ensuring that this is not all about her death – it is all about her life and her love.
We are all together – my mum and dad, my brother and me, the family I came from. I realise that it is still a comforting place to be… for years we pigeon hole the ‘family’ of our childhood as it was then.. a time when (as I now know!) the family is at it’s most fraught, with me as a child and them as the parents. But it hasn’t been that way for a long time. As our family has evolved over my 45 years, now, at it’s end, it is four grown people, caring and loving and looking after each other (and naturally still irritating each other and fighting too). I feel very proud for us all to be where we are.
I have not one regret about my mum and that makes all the difference to this experience. Over the last 5 years of my sandwich years I think, as a family, we have nurtured her as she once nurtured us. We have cared for her and loved her as she always did for us. And before her stroke, we spent time on each other. Often we fought, often we irritated and even hurt each other, but mostly we held hands, and drank cups of tea and gin & tonics, and talked.
Yesterday, as I sat beside her, and she drifted in and out of sleep, I put on the well worn BBC DVD of Pride and Prejudice. It was 1985 when, sitting on the sofa, we watched Colin Firth jump into the lake for the first time, and ever since, whenever we were together we would often say, “shall we put on a bit of Darcy?” I reckon we have watched it over 50 times. So yesterday we watched it one last time. She slept through most of it, but every so often would open her eyes and smile.
She is peaceful and content – my loving kind mum remains when all else is gone. She opens her eyes and sees someone she loves – my dad, my brother, me, one of her friends. Is there any better way to go?
Yesterday morning she reached out her hand and stroked my face and pulled me close. She mumbled but I could make out “love, lovely, love.” I think she was telling me she loved me. What better way is there to say goodbye?
The palliative care team are now involved, so a nurse comes twice a day. This is a huge relief, as I feel there is someone who can tell us what is happening. It is a scary time. It is stressful. Leaving the girls in Dublin for so much time is really hard, once again the sandwich years forcing me to make choices. But there is no choice this time. Tomorrow I will bring the girls up to say goodbye -their decision, and I hope then too, they will be reassured, that this is about letting her go in a gentle loving way, and in doing so hanging on to the memories that matter.
I don’t know how long we have, but she is happy, she is loved, and it is a real privilege to be with her. Watching my mum die is not the horrific experience I once dreaded. It is a loving experience I will always remember.