Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Denial

In retrospect, the loss of my father last year feels like Training Death. I apologise if that sounds flippant, but Dad's passing was almost textbook. He got older and greyer, he couldn't walk as well as he did, and the cough that would go on to kill him got so bad that a physician with poor social skills was (just about) able to tell my sister and me that Dad had about six months left.

In fact, he was five months and three weeks out, as Dad faded before our eyes and died a week later.

I went to pieces. I sobbed so hard that my shoulders shook, and curled up in bed bleating 'Dad!' When the day of the funeral came two days later as per religious custom, I broke down when I saw his coffin, barely kept it together during the service, and just about managed to stay sane as I became the first of many to scoop three shovelfuls of earth onto his casket.

But then I had work to do. As Executor of his Estate, I had to tidy up the mess Dad left behind. His cards and overdraft debts were a couple of grand more than the £20,000 life insurance we received when he died, and I did my best to sort things out with his banks. I can even say with confidence that Dad would've been proud that I solved his secret financial fuck ups and months after it was all done, I smiled happily when I thought of him.

But Mum... I just don't know. I don't think I'll ever fully recover, not completely. Dad and I got on okay, but Mum and I were really close. When Dad died, I began phoning Mum literally every single day. I tried to spend as much time as I could with my sole surviving parent - time I now think wasn't nearly enough, and I began my Big Plan. 

It took months for me to summon up the will, but after my summer holiday and the fattest I'd ever been, I finally managed to start my 2015 diet. I'd completed a couple of great months with visits to the gym every other day, and I lost 11lbs. And I was just getting started. The plan was to power through November and December then start dating, no matter what my weight, in the New Year. The Big Plan, ambitious though it was, was to finally meet someone special, get married, and bang out the kids. I was even happy to skip the marriage part, and ideally squeeze in a new job I've been bleating about for the six or so years I've been blogging. I wanted to be a success for my Mum, and wanted to give her grandchildren.

But Mum died.

Even though I'm typing that, and even though I've discussed this at length with family and friends for two weeks straight, it's still not sinking in, not really. I still say the words, and recall those last horrible days, and I even acknowledge and accept that she's gone, but at the very same time, I don't. It's too awful, and weird, and surreal. I just haven't spoken to her or seen her for a fortnight, that's all.

That last Monday night we saw her truly alive was exhausting. My sister, her two girls and I couldn't sleep. And as we lay in our beds - I chose my sofa as it felt less permanent - we feared that call in the middle of the night but it never came. Instead we went back to see Mum, unconscious and unresponsive on the hospital bed, that damn tube in her dry mouth. We'd hold and squeeze her hand, and kiss her head, but she didn't move a muscle.

Our cousins turned up. They'd cancelled work to be with us. We bought coffees and sent texts and spoke to other relatives to update them, as my sister and I had been given some ghastly options: The hospital still needed to stabilise Mum for an operation but even if she got there, she could easily die in the process. And if Mum were to have a heart attack at any time, we were asked if they should resuscitate.

I squinted in astonishment. 'Of course!' I said. My sister urgently agreed.
'Well it's not very dignified,' the head of Intensive Care told us, 'plus it would only keep her alive at that moment. Mum could have another attack right afterwards.'
And as she talked, the prognosis got worse. They could break her ribs. If Mum ever got out of hospital at all, she simply wouldn't be the person she was when she came in, and she was already wheelchair-bound with a urine colostomy bag and prone to all number of infections. She'd probably need a bag for faeces next as the operation was thought to be needed in her colon. But the real kicker was this: if, against all the odds, Mum did come back after that, if her weak body had the op and had a heart attack and she was forced back to life having endured it all, there was a chance she might return to us brain-damaged.

My step-family had been extremely stoic throughout all of this. The only person other than my stepfather to cry, albeit briefly, was my step-sister, when I called to give her an update:
'We were asked about whether or not to resuscitate Mum, if it came to it.'
'Well?' she asked, 'will you?' 
I had to pause. Even short words were a struggle at trying moments.

'No.'

There was a magical Hollywood moment later that day. I'd been sat in the relatives' waiting room next to the ICU when my youngest niece came running in.
'Grandma's responding!' she squawked.
'What?'
'Her arm! Come and see!'
I ran into the ward. Mum looked no different as she lay there with her eyes closed, motionless. But my sister and her eldest were both stood there smiling.
'We've been talking to her!' my sister said. 'Watch her arm,' and as I looked down, her left arm suddenly flailed into the air.
'Oh Jesus!' I yelled as I grabbed her hand and squeezed it. 'Mum, it's me! Are you there?'
I felt her arm twitch, so I let go and stepped back as her arm rose up and back down again.
We cried with joy.

'Mum!' we said, 'Open your eyes! Can you speak to us?' and then Mum's jaw began to wriggle and writhe. She was trying to talk, to communicate with us were it not for the tube in her mouth, but it was happening, her incredible recovery! We'd had two years of her in and out of hospital. We were almost indifferent to it now as we'd visit each day to hear her complain about the food and her nails looking crap, until her infection cleared up and we'd make plans for her to go home. And now it seemed she was going for the full scare before getting better once again.

But nothing happened apart from her arm, and her mouth, and I couldn't work out why she wasn't squeezing my hand or listening to what we asked.

And then the horrible truth dawned after several minutes; Mum was barely aware of us, if at all. Her only sensation was this thing in her mouth she was trying to spit out or yank free with her flailing arm she hardly had the strength to raise.
'Oh god,' I yelled at a nurse, 'she knows something's wrong. She's scared!'
The nurse squinted at the monitors, and looked at her blood pressure and heart rate.
'No', he said, 'she's fine. Just confused, probably. We'll put her under a little more.'
And as they administered more sedative that stilled Mum for good, we drifted back to the waiting room to wait.

My sister called me the next morning at 6:30am, but I was already awake. Although I expected the worse, I was exceptionally calm.
'Well?'
'She's alive,' she told me, 'but the hospital have asked us to come in. Her signs are starting to fade.'

And that was it as we all gathered round her bedside two weeks ago to the day, holding her hands, kissing her forehead, and telling her how much we loved and adored her. I never did get the return squeeze I longed for. In truth, Mum as we knew her died two days earlier when she managed to say her final words,

'Love you...'

I have never cried as much as I did that day, and did so to the point of panic. My breathing became erratic and as I gasped lungfuls of air, I thought I might die there myself. As I clutched on to Mum's hand and kissed her arm, I wished to trade places with her right there, to be the one dying on that bed instead of her but for some reason, I'd taken that fanciful notion so seriously that I realised if the roles were truly reversed, my mother wouldn't be able to stand the pain we were all feeling.

I was deep into vast rollercoaster waves of grief by that point; cool and detached for the most part, often cracking poor jokes and generally making light of the situation when suddenly, my eyes would tear over and I'd sob violently and quietly, just about able to keep my breakdown to myself.

Then we had that quick funeral. I laughed and smiled and put on that brave face when my friends arrived. When I saw frowns, I told them to cheer up. I'd done this before not that long ago and knew how this would play out, yet I dreaded seeing that coffin. I knew I'd fall to pieces and my cheerful exterior would be betrayed - but it never happened. I walked into the hall and there was her casket. I kept telling myself Mum was in there, but it just didn't seem real. None of it seemed real; just one long, bad, made for TV movie I happened to be in, and as I watched that coffin get lowered into the ground, I shook my head in disbelief. It wasn't grief either, but head cocked to one side, what-the-fuck-is-that-supposed-to-mean? disbelief, and I knew right then that something was seriously wrong and I'd have to visit a counsellor.

11 comments:

looby said...

Fweng, you have my every sympathy, and that's a beautifully eloquent tribute to her and conveys the overwhelming yet unreal sense of loss. All the best, my online friend x

Jo said...

My deepest sympathy. I too have lost my mother and can be very overwhelming. All the best, Jo

Exile on Pain Street said...

Well, that's a hell of a post. I'm sorry for all your suffering. If I were a wizard, I'd wave my wand, sparks, smoke, puff. No more sadness. I'm a little jealous, actually. I felt nothing when my mother and father died. No tears. Nothing. The day my father died it felt more like a Tuesday. (Or what it a Wednesday? I don't remember.) What a happy/sad thing to feel that deeply for someone.

luna said...

it's awful to witness your mum dying this way, and it's clear the docs did not want to resuscitate her.They certainly put you off.
I didn't understand why your mum needed to be extra sedated once she started regaining some consciousness either but never mind it's a life over.

all my condoleances and i hope your friends surround you at all times.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

So sorry for your loss, Fweng. I think we're often expected to get over these things and put on a brave face once the funeral is over (made harder when your religion makes that happen within a couple of days), I certainly felt that way a few years back when we had a spate of close family deaths, so I'm glad you're getting some professional help to see you through it. It's been a tough time for you.

To Luna (above), I think, as hard as it is to understand, sometimes the doctors and nurses who see life and death play out every day just know that at that stage, the whole game is just keeping the patient comfortable. It sounds like they did their best in that respect.

daisyfae said...

so very sorry, fweng. your words took me back to those days about a year ago where we were in the intensive care unit, seeing her non-responsive, and having to sign a paper saying 'do not resuscitate' - despite the fact that she'd let a doctor know TWO DAYS PRIOR (by nodding her head) that she wanted to be resuscitated if her heart stopped.

we are really bad a death in our culture. yes, it is normal, natural, and all of these things. but it's so god damned hard to say goodbye. to face the prospect of living on a planet that does not contain the person who made us who we are...

sending you comfort. you were a good son to her. that's all you can do.

Anonymous said...

You've quit your job. Find your passion! Don't give up! Be bold!

luna said...

she was comfortable.
one last goodbye.denied.

have seen enough of the nhs to be cynical in every way sorry

hope you're ok fweng.

fwengebola said...

Thank you everyone.

luna said...

hi went guess this was the last post and understandably.

came by to wish you the best possible xmas, am not saying a happy one obviously, we are all aware of what's coming privately or publicly, but still there are moments to be enjoyed.

so the best, luna

Anonymous said...

I found your blog only now, when it stopped and I am glad I found it and I shall read your book.
I think you are brave. And interesting and funny.
I am aware of writing such generic albeit very real comments after a (last) post so intense and moving and personal and painful that it may sound insensitive to what you wrote here.
But I thought you'd like to be reminded you are admired.
And not alone in achingly missing Mum.
I wish you well