“Mums the word” – definition – to keep quiet, stay silent
No-one really likes talking about it.. death that is. Everyone feels a little awkward, not knowing quite what to say. Knowing that no matter what they say it doesn’t make anything better for those affected.
The grief I am experiencing from losing my mum is beyond anything I could’ve expected, some days totally unbearable, all consuming, a crushing abyss of despair and pain. There are days that I cope, there are more days that I don’t.. and most of it you keep to yourself, you hide away, cry on your own..
People care, of course they do, they ask the question with a bit of trepidation – “how are you feeling?” and they smile with just a hint of relief in their face when they see a slight smile from you and hear an answer of “ok, fine, thank you for asking”. They know and you know that on the inside you have the deepest sense of loss, abandonment, loneliness and fear, but you don’t mention it, its not talked about.
My mum passing away has hit me hard, its hit all of us hard – well.. thats an understatement to be honest. This is a distressing entry to write and probably read, but one I need to record, a cathartic exercise maybe. For anyone reading, feel free to stop here, do not feel obligated to go further.
The weeks leading up to mum passing I want to remember, the night she actually died and the events of that evening I would rather forget, but in reality thats never going to happen.
Mum had a chest infection, a bad one, been to the docs, given anti-biotics, a week later she was no better.
In the morning, she was struggling to breathe, so called an ambulance. The paramedics arrived, checked her over, said she was ok and advised her to see her GP, which we did that very same morning. Her breathing was really laboured, she was getting no sleep, so added to her being unwell was her total exhaustion. She also had swelling in her ankles and legs, and it was all this put together that prompted the doctor to refer her to Blackburn Hospital that day.
The hospital were concerned and on an ECG picked up on an irregular heartbeat, prescribed some blood thinning meds, arranged a cardio echo and we went off home (this did take a full day of sitting in the hospital).
Tuesday & Wednesday
All seemed ok, mum was still tired and not well, but didn’t appear to be getting any worse.
I’m a bit of a night owl (get long periods of pretty severe insomnia), so was up late, around 1am. I heard the familiar sound of mum in her slippers shuffling along on the floor in the hallway (the times I thought ‘I wish she’d pick her feet up!’), figured she was off for one of her numerous night time trips to the bathroom. I decided it was late enough and to attempt to get some sleep and take myself off to bed. Going in to the hall I could here odd noises from the bathroom.. I stood, waited, listened – I didn’t really want to just walk in, but the odd noises continued, I knocked on the door and went in to find mum on the floor, she wasn’t able to get up. She had a severe cut over her eye and was very disorientated. Ron and I managed to get her up, got her back in to bed and tried to settle her. A bag of frozen peas on her eye, and a make shift bed on the couch for me.
Arranged for a friend to come and sit with mum whilst I went to work. She clearly wasn’t right in herself, but given I would be back by lunch time we thought we’d see how she got on. On my return I found mum to be very confused, disoriented still. Most definitely time for a trip back to Blackburn hospital.
Following scans and examinations, the hospital advised that mum had suffered an acute stroke and she was admitted. Her sight had been affected, her mobility was fine (well, no worse that it had been before), but she had some cognitive impairment which would need to be assessed.
Mum spent the next week in hospital undergoing further assessments. She was bright within herself, for the most part was lucid, clear of thought, recognised and understood most of what was going on. She needed assistance now in showering and dressing. She had no appetite (in fact, was going to write to the Prime Minister on the shocking quality of food in the hospital!) But generally, it was felt, with assisted care at home she could be discharged.
The most worrying thing however, was that following a Cardio Echo, they had discovered that mum had severe Ischemic Heart Disease. They prescribed the necessary medication, made the referrals to specialists that were required, made arrangements for support at home – and she was discharged.
Over the next week mum was doing ok. I assisted her showering, washing hair and dressing (on the couple of occasions she tried to dress herself, most items were on back to front, or she forgot what she had already put on, so ended up with trousers and a skirt on, or a couple of jumpers – she did laugh about it and insisted she was starting a new fashion trend).
She was able to go to church, and one of the most wonderful things to see was that she went straight back to playing the piano – all be it hitting a few (well, quite a few) wrong notes, and playing the intro to hymns a few too many times. But she loved playing the piano at church, it made her feel useful and needed, and it brought me such joy to see that she was still able to.
I had started to make adjustments to my work schedule, knowing that moving forward she was going to need extra care. In the meantime we received such amazing support from her friends who came and sat with her during the times I had to work. Who kept her company, talked to her, stayed with her whilst she dozed off. Made sure she was safe and loved. I can’t begin to express my gratitude for the help and support offered so selflessly during those 2 weeks.
Mum had had a really good day. She’d had company, the carer had been round for a chat and under supervision mum had made herself a sandwich and warm drink. Some additional mobility aids had been ordered to make her life a bit easier. Ron and I had come in from work after lunch, sat and had a good chat with her. It was our wedding anniversary, and we were meant to be going out. The children were off to Ron’s mums for the night and we had planned to go out for dinner. But I was tired, and decided we would stay at home and order a takeaway instead. However, the girls were excited to go to Grandma Betty’s, so rather than cancel and have them home, they still went off for their sleepover (I can’t even begin to express with hindsight the relief that they had gone)
Mum was tired early evening, I helped her shower, wash her hair, clean night clothes on and got her in to bed with a book. I explained we weren’t going out, and did she want anything from the takeaway – Chips and Gravy was what she wanted, and so its what she got. My Aunt Jean phoned around 8.30pm and I took the phone in to mum for her to have a chat. She was so bright, telling my Aunt about her day and our plans to go out for a drive on the Saturday.
It was later that night, around 9.30 / 10pm that I went to give her a night time tablets. She was in bed, the lamp on at the side of her, duvet tucked under a chin, eyes closed. I didn’t want to wake her, but she needed her last lot of meds. I tapped her lightly on the shoulder, but she didn’t wake. Mum was deaf as a post without her hearing aids in, so I gave her another tap and said her name a bit louder, but still no response. I got louder and gave her a gentle shake. There was no breath, there was no movement, but she was warm, normal colour, she just looked asleep.. but I knew.
Then things got crazy – I ran for Ron, he called the ambulance and they instructed to start CPR – I am first aid trained, but you never in all your life expect to have to perform CPR on anyone, let alone your mum. With each compression I knew in my heart that she had gone, with every breath I gave her the fear inside me grew. We had to get mum on to the floor – I know it was necessary, but it seemed so wrong, so undignified. She was so peaceful, so comfy, and in the space of minutes she had been dragged from her bed, I felt her rib crack with one of the first compressions, and I was frantically trying to pump and breathe life in to her.. but I knew
Ron and I took it in turns to continue CPR until the ambulances arrived – what seemed like a lifetime was in reality 11 mins. A team of 4 paramedics continued to work on mum for 40 minutes. I prayed, harder than I have every prayed before… but I knew
Ron phoned my sister – she had to come, and come now – but she lives near Doncaster – a good hour and a half drive..
They got mum in to the ambulance, I travelled with her, the paramedics as gently as they could advised that the prognosis wasn’t good, that whilst they would continue to administer CPR on the way to the hospital, the likelihood would be she would be pronounced dead on arrival to the hospital. I sat by her in the ambulance, watching, praying, trying not to vomit.
I witnessed the most horrific sight I have ever experienced. CPR is not a gentle process, it is severe, it is a violent assault on the body- essential I know to try and sustain life.. but I knew
Mum was pronounced dead at 12.44am Saturday 24th February.
Her passing had been painless, peaceful, the aftermath was anything but. The only comfort I can take from our actions and everything I had to witness is that my mum whilst not frightened of dying, wasn’t ready to die and she would’ve wanted us and the medical professionals to do everything they could, no matter what to try and keep her with us. Sadly, and devastatingly, it wasn’t to be.
Her last meal – Chips and gravy
Her last conversation – with her much loved sister Jean
I was told by the Coroner after the her postmortem that her heart would just have stopped beating. She would have closed her eyes, and her heart stopped. There would’ve been no shock, no fear, no pain, no knowledge.
Her heart stopped, and mine broke.
I feel very blessed in many ways for the couple of weeks leading up to mums death. If it wasn’t for the chest infection she would never have gone to the doctor, the doctor wouldn’t have referred her to hospital, the hospital wouldn’t have been put her on blood thinners, and the stroke she had a few days later would likely to have been fatal. Having the stroke gave me the opportunity to care for her for those 2 weeks. To do things for my mum that were a privilage. To show love and compassion in a very special way .. my mother – a formidable woman, whom I didn’t always have the closest or easiest relationship with over the years. For those 2 weeks, I will be forever grateful – she knew despite our fall outs, differences, arguments – that I would have done anything for her, that I loved and cared for her, and was willing to do what ever it took to take care of her.