The Tardis Has Landed: Celebrating Mum

My mum died a year ago today. 

She died at night around 11pm and I find myself thinking, because I am writing this in the morning, that I have a few hours left of her.

April 17th already. It’s hard to believe. It seems like only yesterday I was in the hospital at her bedside in Bristol Royal Infirmary on what was to be the last day of her life; at other times, it feels like years ago, because I have never known the start to any year drag as much as this one has. I thought March would never end. January and February long ago seemed consigned to a Jurassic part of my brain. Christmas is nine months away and feels as if it should be tomorrow.

As if grief had not already distorted time enough, along comes Coronavirus, the Tardis of infections that has thrown minutes, weeks and hours into a universe none of us could have imagined. 

Yesterday, when New York Governor Cuomo announced that we are to be in lockdown until May 15th (and that, too, will be up for review), I went into panic mode again. I know 100% it is the right thing to do and, being someone who was brought up to do what she is told by people in authority, I will religiously be adhering to the rules. It is not just that the Governor is in authority; he really knows what he is talking about. At this time, I bow with gratitude to people who know far more than I do.  

I am glad that Mum is not around to see this. Of course, I am desperately sad that she is gone, but her fear and anxiety would have added another dimension to a life already so stressed over every atom of her routine that wasn’t met. Unable to walk, following an accident 18 months before she died, she became dependent on others for everything. There was only so much I or friends could do; it required two people to lift her onto her commode. I don’t want to humiliate her by describing what other indignities she endured in her helplessness. She was angry if the carers arrived to give her meals too early; woe betide any of them who arrived when Emmerdale was on. It was desperately irritating, but in retrospect, understandable; she wanted to cling on to the small vestige of power she had left – even if it was just the TV remote.

This hasn’t been the easiest of years and I have several friends who have lost a parent in that time – I know three people who have lost their mothers in the past month. Grieving is exhausting. For the past few years, flying back and for to the UK from the US to see Mum, I seemed to live in a permanent state of jetlag. In isolation, I continue to feel wiped out, partly as a result of having been ill (most likely the flu virus rather than Covid-19), and only now is my arm starting to feel like normal after breaking my humerus last year.

A year ago, I did not think there would come a time when I would be able to focus on the happy memories. No matter how much anyone tells you that this time will come, the exhaustion of illness and grief is so overwhelming, there are days when just putting one foot in front of the other is an ordeal. It was heart-breaking to see Mum’s life reduced to sitting in a chair in the corner of the living room, having only the trip to the single hospital bed in the dining room to look forward to.

From a young child, Mum had always been a voracious reader, and in addition to TV she consumed novels, biographies (she adored Anne de Courcy), autobiographies, and the world’s news on her iPad. How she loved her iPad. The second a headline broke, she would e-mail me to see if I had heard the news; so quick was she off the mark when a celebrity died, I swear she knew they had gone even before they did. She was still working until she was 83 (though would never disclose her age to anyone) and I am grateful her mind remained alert and active, even while her body reached its last chapter.

When her eyesight started to deteriorate, not being able to read was devastating to her. With her hearing already in serious decline (although mysteriously, she was always able to hear us if we whispered something on the other side of the room), she was reliant on subtitles on the TV, and barely able to see those either, she was denied her another of her greatest pleasures. I used to feel irritated that having flown across the Atlantic to see her she would put me on pause while she watched Tipping Point, The Chase, Home and Away, Neighbours, Emmerdale, Coronation Street, et al; by the time she’d finished her shows, it was usually time for me to catch my flight back.

I was angry when she checked herself out of a perfectly good nursing home, against medical advice. That was the beginning of the end, but her stubbornness won out and she said she would rather die alone at home than stay there a day longer. It’s very hard to hear your parent sobbing and sobbing, begging for something you know is the wrong decision, and giving in because the heart is invariably mightier than the head.

The irritation, frustration and anger occasionally surface, but yes, as predicted, they have subsided. I smile when I think of a recent report when I visited hospital, describing me as ‘well-nourished’, knowing that this is down to Mum. Every day, we had a cooked meal: protein, two veg, dessert, and strictly no snacking between meals. To this day, eating between meals is complete anathema to me; drinking between meals, well, that’s another matter.

She did her best, often in trying times, and I think my brother Nigel and I have turned out okay. More than okay. We are hard-working, kind and generous people who owe so much to both parents, and despite difficulties dealing with Mum along the way (and there were many; I’m not going to sugar-coat it), I know how much she loved us and would have done anything for us.

We had very happy childhoods that, looking back, all too quickly came to an end. Today, I am grateful for the light, love and goodness she brought not only to our family but to many others’ lives through friendship and her work, where her capacity for helping those less fortunate than herself was formidable.

It was a long life, and if there is one thing the current situation has shown us is that any life is to be valued; forget not knowing what’s around the next corner – the threat of not even making it to the corner is our biggest worry.

I have no religious beliefs and find the idea of Mum ‘looking down’ on me laughable and based on infantile conceptions rooted in fear of mortality. Mum was a believer and it gave her strength; each to their own. I prefer to think of her still among us; everlasting life is exactly that – it’s what we pass on. 

And on this first anniversary, I commemorate not the loss of her, but her ongoing presence.