17th March 2003 was a Sunday too

Today is the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death.  I don’t normally mark such events and do my best not to think of them, but this has been on my mind a good deal recently.  I’m not entirely sure why, except possibly that it’s close to the date when I shall have outlived my father, something I’m oddly dreading.  This is not to say I wish not to survive beyond the next week and please don’t read this in any such light, but I feel as if I shall be leaving him behind and, even more than forty years on, I’m reluctant to do that.

My mother was told she had terminal cancer exactly, to the day, six months before she died.  She had a fabulous last six months and appreciated and enjoyed them fully.  I remember one day, not long after she came home from hospital, when very old friends, Lawrie and Lynn, came up from Somerset to visit her.  We made smoked salmon sandwiches and got out champagne and the party was in full swing when the Rector arrived to visit his sick parishioner.  He was momentarily bewildered to be greeted by Jane with a beaming smile and a glass of champagne (for him, she couldn’t drink) but entered into the spirit of things in no time.

Our friends Pam and Peter, the ones I went to Corfu with last year, called round one day with flowers for me, having heard she had been at death’s door but not that she had spurned its threshold.  I was out and she saw them arrive.  Naturally assuming the flowers were for her, she greeted them warmly.  They told me afterwards, that was pretty disconcerting.  But it was typical of those last months which she enjoyed so much.

Weeza and I were asleep in the next room when she died.  Weeza woke me in the early hours to say she couldn’t hear anything: I went to check and found that she had left this life.  It was unexpected in that she had had a morphine driver fitted twelve hours previously, which should have eased her last few days.  No one was to know that it was only willpower keeping her going and, once the morphine had dulled that, there was no strength left.  It was the right time for morphine, though.  The previous night had been uncomfortable, though not painful for her and she would have suffered without it.  As it was, the Sage and I helped her to bed and he stayed with her while I went to fetch Weeza from the station – she had come straight home from London when I phoned.  When we got back, we found the Sage helping a very woozy mother to the bathroom, she being determined to go to the loo before falling asleep.  We helped, got her back into bed and she greeted Weeza and kissed us all before settling to sleep.  She didn’t wake again and I’m sure she waited for me to get back.  I’m also sure that she didn’t want to die in front of anyone, to spare us, because I know that’s often the case.

I phoned the doctor’s nighttime service and a doctor from the next town’s practice (someone I know as it so happened) rang me back.  I explained the checks I’d made to ensure she had died: though I knew as soon as I saw her, I checked her pulse, her cooling temperature and put a mirror to her lips, and that he did not need to come out unless he felt he must, and he said he wouldn’t unless I wanted him to.  I phoned Wink, who was due to arrive that morning, the undertaker and, around seven o’clock, the Rector, to tell him I couldn’t play the organ at the service that day.

My mother’s own doctor called in later out of sympathy, which was lovely of him as he wasn’t even on duty that weekend, and later the undertakers arrived.  Wink and I had opened a bottle of red wine by then – it was sometime after midday, and the Rector came just in time to say a prayer for her before she left.  I thrust a glass of wine at him and he dutifully drank it, afterwards admitting he’d given up alcohol for Lent, but he’s a good friend and it was a gesture of support (the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath, as Jesus put it).

I didn’t cry, then or afterwards.  I’d cried buckets six months previously and also briefly on the Friday when the doctor told me that the stent keeping her bile duct open had failed and that she would last a fortnight at most, probably less than a week.  But there’s a time to die and she’d reached it, and it was better to be thankful for a peaceful end in her own bed.

If you have been, thanks for listening.  And if you are remembering someone you love, I hope I’ve not added to your sadness but please think of me as sharing it.

Love to all, Z xxx

12 comments on “17th March 2003 was a Sunday too

  1. Tim

    I’d been intending to write a facetious piece about UKIP, but I don’t think I can now. As it happens, I’ve recently been having various conversations about past events which, in a way, run parallel to your account, but I wouldn’t be able to write about them in the moving yet objective way you have. Thank you for the focus, and the release.

  2. Roses

    It sounds like the perfect ending really.

    Comfortable, in her own home, with family nearby.

    No darling, there’s no pain reading your experiences. In fact, it makes me appreciate all the support you gave with my father. You really did understand what I was going through.

    You are a truly lovely person.

    Lots of love to you on a 10th anniversary of a sad day.


  3. janerowena

    I found that very moving. We lost a very dear friend to cancer last year, only 58 and he had been told he had another eighteen months but only lasted three months. But as you noted – what a three months, he lived it to the full until his stent failed too. My last happy memory of him is of him going out to bat at a cricket match with all his friends cheering him on, bat held high in defiance. I hope I could be as positive as your mother, if I have an illness like that. My best friend, when dying, told me that every second of life becomes very sweet and your senses become heightened.

  4. mig

    Oddly enough I’ve been thinking of my mother too as she died on April Fools day, which would have made her laugh.

    Thank you, dear Z for a lovely post.

  5. Pat

    Im so sorry you had to see your mother suffer. I am so thankful that MTL didn’t until the last hour or so – although he was a stoic so one never really knows.
    I know he would have hated to be bedridden and dependant.
    Death is all around; we have just had our third sudden death in the lane.

  6. Z

    She had been very ill, had a lot of tests that didn’t find anything and had been treated as a time-waster, most unfairly. One day I may write more about it, I’ve never felt able to. But those last six months did so much to make up for it.

    We should be able to talk about death, I think it would be good for us all. Thank you so much for your lovely comments.


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