It was the worst 8 days of my life so far. Knowing it was coming wasn’t that bad because up until the phone call came through at 2pm on that inevitable day, none of it was real. Walking out of the petrol station after filling my tank and just about to go back to my mould infested flat on that Friday. I was supposed to be trying to drum up work, but instead I was successfully avoiding the work I had already acquired, it was a Friday afternoon! my phone rang and the display said, “Stuart” my brother.
The phone call was to tell me my mum had been taken from her hospital bed and to a hospice, my heart sank and I didn’t know what to say until blind panic filled me with adrenalin. I jabbered without any control until he calmed me down, I hung up the call and rang, my then girlfriend, I did marry the wonderful woman, to tell her. She was working in a shop just a mile away from where I was, I got into the car and went over to her. We talked for a short while and she left a voice mail message for her boss telling her what had happened and she shut the shop 4 hours early.
I had never realised until later that day what it really meant when someone was admitted to a hospice, I tried to reason with myself that everything was going to be OK and after a short stay my mum would be back in her house watching rubbish on the telly, but not only that turning it over half way through to watch something completely different.
We got in the car went back to the flat and packed some stuff, got the cat in her cage and away we went, almost silence filled the car for the 60 mile drive to where my family home was. Family home was a little vague, I predominantly grew up there, at that time my dad worked away, both of my brothers were in the army and I visited occasionally. My mum lived in the house on her own, she kept herself busy most of the time, with being in adult education to be a qualified play group leader whilst also being a domestic supervisor for the local NHS.
We arrived at the hospice, luggage and cat still in the back of the car, parked up and went into the main entrance, we talked to the nurse in the main entrance and was shown through to where my dad greeted us and had a little word prior to seeing where my mum was. The white curtain that surround her bed was the last boundary before what I now know was when my heart broke down. Standing in front of the curtain with Sian at my side I was trying to prolong the next step and being the chivalrous person I am I stood and wanted Sian to go first, however she never moved and it was me that moved the curtain to one side and I saw a frail old woman asleep, lying on her side looking at me through closed eyes.
I sat down on the chair next to the clinical bed and looked her in the face trying to recognise the woman who fed me as a child, fed me as a teenager and even fed me as an adult, every wrinkle in her face was telling me she couldn’t help but let go of life. I was heavy, I wanted to be on that beach in Thailand on that wonderful family holiday when I was 6, I wanted to be stuck in never ending traffic on the road to nowhere. My body now a brick, un-moving and cemented into place with horror and disbelief. This frail woman is the shadow of my mum.
Later that day she was moved from where I first saw her into a room that seemed a little apt, my mums name is Glenfa the room she was placed in was called Gwenfra. It looked a little like a Premier Lodge hotel room, with bathroom facilities, TV, comfortable sofa, extra chairs and a hospital bed and a clinical white polyester curtain hung from the polystyrene tiles in the ceiling. The nurses station and the coffee machine right outside and the family room was right next door. It was in that family room I first watched my most favourite film, The Hound of the Baskervilles, the 1939 version with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, the only two people who should ever have been aloud to play Sherlock and Dr Watson.
I think it was on the third day of being sat in her room from 9am to 7pm watching her sleep, I call it sleep but in reality she was on such powerful drugs she was comatosed for 23 hours a day. When her bed sheet fell off her legs it exposed something to me I wasn’t expecting to see in reality ever. Her leg from the upper thigh down was swollen up, skin as that resembled a red potatoe and patches of green. This was the first time I had ever experience a panic attack and ran out of the room in fits of tears. Sian followed me out, she had worked in care homes before and had been exposed to things like this before, that doesn’t mean she wasn’t as shocked as me but I had never seen anything like this and it hit me in my heart very hard.
I tried to reason with myself that when she got better the doctors could treat the gang green and anything else that had caused the problem and she was going to be fine, but after the loving consoling Sian had given me, I was able to tell myself that they could amputate and she can still live a fulfilling life.
For the whole of the eight days sat in the room and the eight nights sat drinking heavily with family, my dad was in there for about 22 hours a day, sleeping on a tiny two seater sofa. He is not the tallest of men but still a two seater and a person with head, arms and legs can only produce overflow. We would all take it in turns taking him away from the magnolia painted cell to grab some lunch or for a small pint of anything. Grabbing our respite from the solitude and loneliness illness brings with it, away from the generic looking furniture, the clinical bed and curtain, the bathroom fully equipped for disabled access and the constant wurring of the automatic medication dispenser carefully placed under her pillow.
It is really stupid to think that you would ever get any kind of memorable moment out of such an awful experience but going towards the end, the amounts of awake time diminished and in those brief minutes something truly wonderful happened to me, I had to get out of the room for some air, the room had its own little patio over looking a communal area with bird boxes and a water baths where nature did what nature does best. Just as I sat on the bench for a minute watching a squirrel do what squirrels do best, I heard from inside the room, “Coooey, I can see you.” I looked over my shoulder and in through the open door. My mum was leaning forward on one elbow and waving at me with the most beautiful smile, it was then I knew this was her way of saying goodbye to me.
For the next couple of nights when we would leave I said a definite goodbye to her until on the Saturday at 6.15pm my mum died and was free from the constant pain and her loving family released from the the waiting for death.