It’s about 10am and Mr Mason is talking to the man who has come to fix the dishwasher. The phone rings, disrupting their conversation and the caller is a man called Terry who is a neighbour of Mr and Mrs Mason snr. Briefly, he says he noticed the blinds were all closed at Mr and Mrs Mason snr’s house so he knocked the door. He could hear Mrs Mason so tried his doorkey. It wouldn’t work as the bolts were engaged behind the door. He got a ladder and removed louvres about the front door and managed to climb in. Mrs Mason says she can’t wake Mr Mason up. Terry calls 999 and is asked if he can perform CPR which he does. Later he says he knew it was too late but he valiantly carried on until the paramedics arrived. Using their defibrilator, the sign comes up says not to resuscitate so Mr Mason is taken away to the morgue at a local hospital.
The blow is phenomenal. Mr Mason comes upstairs to tell me his father has just died and we are distraught. We start grabbing toothbrushes and clothes, dog food and anything else we can think of, shoving them into unsuitable bags, get in the car after asking a neighbour to watch out for a parcel which is due to be delivered and drive down to Hampshire.
This blog would be too long if I included a lot of detail but I’ll pick out the most important parts. Firstly, my father-in-law was a great man; kind, considerate, funny, well-travelled and a great but unassuming raconteur. He loved his wife, his son and the rest of the family unconditionally and could never do enough for us. We loved him back the same way, always looking forward to seeing him and the annual singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ over the phone for whoever was in line to hear the strangled version. His penchant for sticking things to his forehead was another welcome party piece.
Arriving at the house, Mrs Mason snr is sitting on the sofa in a kind of daze. We are also in a daze. People drift in and out. She asks repeatedly where Dad is. We tell her straight that he has died rather than the well-meaning person who tells her he has just gone out. It’s an extraordinary pain to hear devastating news repeatedly. We decide to stay the night and put Mrs Mason Snr in the single bed. The bedding on the double bed is a curious mix of sheets and blankets and we’re told they don’t normally sleep on the bottom sheet as such but sleep on top of the bed. What they cover themselves with, we don’t know. We go to bed early. I haven’t slept at all the night before for some reason and am living on adrenaline. To be honest, the house smells and it’s rather off-putting getting into bed, especially as that’s where Dad (as he will be known forthwith) died a few hours ago. Just before midnight, a confused Mum (as she will be called) comes into the bedroom, muttering about her feet being cold and she slides into bed next to Mr Mason, calling him George and holding his hand. I slide out the other side of the bed and putting a jumper on, go to sleep in a chair in the sitting room, covering myself with a coat. I don’t risk the single bed due to the urinary incontinence which has long been denied but is certainly present and get an hour or two’s uncomfortable sleep. In the morning, we have a cursory look for papers, eventually get a certificate from the local GP, pack a few clothes and leave for home but not before Mum finds a set of false teeth under the pillow I slept on. Hmmmmm.
Mum asks questions repeatedly, the same questions over and over, but she does get into the car without complaining which, given she hasn’t been out of the house for over 5 years, is quite something.
The days after that (and it’s only 4 since I last wrote in this blog) are a whirl of confusion for all of us. We start to get support services into place and I talk to so many people I can’t remember who is from what organisation or what they do. Every time we leave the house we come back to messages on the answerphone. At home, Mum can’t remember the layout of the house which, given she is restricted to kitchen, dining room and sitting room gets a bit frustrating. “Why don’t you go and sit down, Mum?” “Where shall I sit?” “In the sitting room, on the sofa”. “Where’s that?” “The room just through there, with the sofa in it” “Shall I sit on this chair?”, pointing to dining room chair. “No, sit on the sofa, it’s more comfortable”. “Where is it?” and so the conversation goes on until I physically take her there. There are moments of naughtiness when she can’t get out of a chair when her carers come. She becomes a very doddery old lady and the frustrating questions, like “Can I sit here? Am I taking your place? Is it all right if I put my arm on this cushion? Should I turn it over?” The very worst and most annoying repetetive phrases are “I can’t eat this” and “I can’t drink this”, both delivered at the same time as the food and drink are given to her. With the amount of shock and grief she is enduring, it’s not surprising she isn’t hungry but when it’s said every time and several times through a meal, it gets really irritating. There was one exception yesterday when she ate a cream eclair without a single word. Hurrah!
I can only imagine how she feels inside. We have some small chats when I go and sit beside her, mainly because she is quite deaf but also it’s a good excuse to go and hold hands and find out how she feels. Today she feels sad, not sad with us in the house but sad in her heart. She feels she’s been left. She regularly forgets Dad has died and I can only imagine the impact of that. We’re also grieving amongst the paperwork, wending out way through social services and trying to find papers so we can organise a funeral.
Oh, and yes, there’s me. On Friday we go to see the oncologist to get the results of the bone scan I had before Christmas. There is no sign of cancer in the bone but apparently I am riddled with arthritis. Woo hoo! Never have I been so happy to be diagnosed with arthritis. My oncologist is pleased that my tumour markers are gradually decreasing as well. The arthritis is in my neck, shoulders and spine, hips, knees and ankles. Riddled seems an appropriate term but it explains the pain I have experienced. He is keen for me to reduce my morphine to what I call ouch level – so that I can be aware of the pain and treat it accordingly. I am too tired to think about it or argue. Every appointment I have means we have to take Mum with us so she accompanies us to Chemotherapy, an appointment which only finishes at 6pm, an appointment at the Hospice and another to see the oncologist. She doesn’t complain too much but suggests repeatedly to Mr Mason that they just go home.
So, back to Dad. While the children were young, they spent a lot of time with him during the summer. He loved taking them to the beach, driving them to Marwell Park (when it was open) and they planned to buy a beach hut on Hayling Island until a storm blew most of them down in 1987. While driving them along, he would periodically sing or shout out random phrases or poems. There was the famous “Oh, wiggly stick!” but the classic was “Fort Zinderneuf”, shouted as they drove past the forts along the top of Portsdown Hill.
I can’t really do justice to a man who was so kind to me, who behaved as though it was a privilige to be in my company and who loved me unconditionally. He loved his son and grandchildren in just the same way and we will all miss him incredibly, as will Mum who was married to him for over 70 years and now feels lost and bereft. There are no words for that.