I’m not really sure what category to put this post under, but I would like to say Happy Birthday Mum. She would have been 73 years old today, sadly, she died on the 14th September 2013, when we were in the process of planning for her 70th birthday.
My mum was a truly wonderful person, she had her issues in life, but generally, she was a great mum and she was my true best friend. When I was a child we were very close, when I hit my teenage years we struggled. She was just trying to guide me, but in a way that made me feel like a child and often caused me to rebel. Thankfully, as I grew up and especially when I had my son, our relationship healed, and we became closer than ever.
I could talk to my mum about anything, and I did, frequently. Her number was on speed dial, we often did that thing of calling each other at exactly the same time and one of us being able to hear the other dialling. We talked ten times a day sometimes, I bounced nearly every decision off of her, valued her input, learned from her, we laughed, we cried, she was the best mum I could have wished for.
Around the start of 2013 she started suffering a shortness of breath, especially when doing anything that caused exertion. She didn’t like exercise, she didn’t even enjoy walking, and now this caused her to get out of breath even over small distances. She went for numerous tests, heart, lungs, all was found to be normal. Still the shallowness of breath continued. The doctors even insinuated that she was imagining it, she did have a habit of focusing on illness, and what was wrong with her, occasionally taking to bed for a day or two at a time. I used to joke with her, come on mum, it’s in your head! I remember the day me, my children, my mother in law and her went to view me and my husbands potential wedding venue, the walk to it was awful for her, she had to stop continually. I was worried, but the doctors had told us there was nothing wrong with her.
I suggested to her that perhaps she had asthma, I had it as a child and the symptoms seemed similar enough to suggest it. She visited the nurse, and their verdict? Not asthma, but COPD. (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder). A very mild case, completely treatable with medication. She had smoked for much of her adult life, but had stopped around 20 years previous.
She was given a little inhaler and started treatment. Then she got a cold, which progressed to a chest infection. She took to bed, ill, unable to move much in part down to the shortness of breath. Eventually, after a couple of days, my otherwise completely healthy mother had to be hospitalised.
She was sent to a local hospital, but eventually they were so worried about her she was moved from the island she lived on to a larger hospital, closer to where I lived. I visited her with my children after school on Friday 13th of September, she was in bed, with an oxygen mask on, awake though and speaking to the kids. I remember she had a look of mild panic in her eyes, she hated being ill and was scared being in the hospital. I sat with her for about an hour, told her I was going to stay with my dad, he was 83 at that point, with parkinsons disease and other health problems. We would be over the next morning. I hugged her, kissed her, stroked her hand, told her not to worry. The kids jumped up on the bed and spoke to her. The last thing I told her was I would see her tomorrow and I loved her very much.
I went to my dad’s house and we settled in for a normalish evening, other than the undertones of worry, but telling ourselves she was in the best place.
Around 10.30 that night, the phone rang. It was a doctor, speaking to my dad he asked “Why was your wife not being treated for low oxygen?” What? We didn’t know she should have been. This sounded ominous. Around half an hour later the phone rang again, the doctor again, this time asking for a full run down of her symptoms, he had her notes but he wanted us to describe it. My dad did.
We had a cup of tea in the kitchen, and spoke about how worrying and unusual this felt. I decided to try to go to bed, my logic being the sooner I got to sleep the sooner it was the next morning. I was sleeping with my daughter, in my mums bed, surrounded by all of her belongings, her smell, everything except her.
I was woken, at around 2.00 in the morning, no light on in the room but with my dad standing over the end of the bed, a silhouette only, saying “Fiona, you need to get up, the police are here, your mum is dead”. It felt as if my head exploded and heart broke simultaneously. I started screaming from the millisecond what he had said registered. I stumbled out of bed, walked into the living room, catching a glimpse of myself in a mirror in the hall. I will never forget the look I had on my face. Horror, shock, like my world had just fallen apart. My son was awake in the living room, I glanced at him, but kept walking, into the kitchen, to find my dad sitting at the same table we had sat at a few hours previously, with two police people, a man and a woman I think.
I was still screaming. What happened? How? This can’t be happening. I need to get there. This is not happening. Shriller and shriller, the tears were flowing, time stood still.
It transpired that the doctor had phoned my dad back not long before 2, and told him she had died. She had a panic attack and they had given her some tranquilliser to calm her down, it didn’t work, they thought her heart had stopped but would need to do an autopsy. There was nothing they could have done and they were very sorry. My dad, in a daze, hadn’t hung the phone up correctly, and they heard him hysterical in the background. They called the police and asked them to go to the house. My dad had known for at least ten minutes before the police came to the door. That breaks my heart, that he hadn’t told me and suffered alone. What he must have been going through.
I phoned my husband, he was stuck on the mainland, the boats to the island went off overnight. I was barely understandable, still screaming and crying. I felt as if I would never stop. He phoned his mum, she lived nearby, she came to the house and was just there. I will always appreciate that. I don’t know how I would have made it through that first hour without her. I wandered out into the street. It was the middle of the night. I was praying to be knocked over, or murdered, so the pain would go away. The pain of loss was overwhelming, every second felt like an hour, as my brain attempted to reprogram itself into the “Accept your mum is dead and you will never see her again” mindset. Safe to say that didn’t work for about a year.
I’m not a religious person, I don’t believe I will see her again. I’m happy for people who believe they will, but for me that is the easy choice, the path of least resistance. I wonder, for the people who believe they will see them again, does it make their suffering any easier? Either way, for me, she is gone. Her beautiful, supportive, loving light was out. And I was going to need to live my life without her. It was 8 days before my 31st birthday. Not a baby, but I assumed I would have her for many more years. My dad was the older parent, the sicker parent, and now the reality that my mum was dead was also bringing with it the reality that in the not too distant future I would be an adult orphan. 621 days to be exact.
The whole first year was a bit of a daze. I had my birthday a few days later, myself and some very close friends went to a local pub for drinks. Inside, I was dying, but I was grateful to be surrounded by the people closest to me. My mother in law watched the kids a lot in the first few days, I was unstable, prone to episodes of hysterical crying, my face was red raw from all the crying. I had to go and buy eye drops to moisturise my eyes. I stayed at my dad’s house for nearly two weeks, we had to wait that long for the autopsy and funeral. The funeral took place on the 30th September. I spoke at it, I felt I needed to. Everyone already knew, but I wanted to make sure everyone knew what a great person she was. Everyone said I did well. I barely remember it.
I continued going to uni somehow, it was my 3rd year, the hardest year. I made it through with one re-sit. I’m not sure how, but I did, and went on to fourth year. It was around about 6 months after my dad got diagnosed with a brain tumour. He died 2 weeks after I finished my fourth year of university. I will do a separate post about my dad at some point.
I was lucky to get the parents I had. I loved them, cherished them, respected them, and for some reason never really considered life without them. I’m now over 3 years down the line from my mum dying, and a year and a half from my dad. Life does have a way of keeping you going. Things will never be the same, but good does come out of the pain. I am able now to think about them and smile, laugh, remember the good times without having an emotional breakdown (although it still happens occasionally). But every day I think of them, what I would give for a single conversation. I’m sad my children will grow up without fully experiencing their love, but I speak about them regularly and keep the memory of them alive. I look at pictures of them, sometimes I cry, sometimes I smile.
Do I have any final words? Cherish your parents and anyone you live while you still have them, she shock of my mum dying taught me that death can come out of nowhere, a long time before you think you’re ready, so make the most of the important people every single day. Something else I’m working on, which is easier said that one, live a life you won’t regret. Time marches on quickly, and I don’t want to look back in my elderly years (if I even make it that far) and regret how I lived my youth.
Happy Birthday Mum.