In the days running up to Mum’s appointment with her oncologist we see less and less of Mum. She is there physically, of course, but there are fewer glimpses of her. She is back to sleeping through the days and is more and more difficult to rouse. Sometimes I creep into her room and lay next to her on the bed while she sleeps, wishing things were different. We tell her we love her a lot and Mr Mason, Mr Mason Jr and I spend lots of time together working as a team helping to move Mum and with her meals and tablets. At the beginning of the week Mum stops being able to use a straw and we know that we are in big trouble. We try many different techniques and have some success with a spoon and later with a syringe. Taking tablets on board is hard but we muddle through it.
Wednesday morning rolls around and Mr Mason and I know that we will have to see Dr C on Mum’s behalf. We leave her in the capable hands of Mr Mason Jr and Ms Atherton and make the trip to Lincoln with Master Safaie. Dr C is kind but straightforward which are qualities that you want in an oncologist. He knows immediately from Mum’s absence that things were bad. After listening to us he tells us that sadly the radiotherapy hadn’t worked as we had hoped it would and that we have come to the end of the road. Chemotherapy would not be of any benefit to Mum at this point and he tells us to make use of Marie Curie, Macmillan and the Hospice and Home team who we are already in touch with. Dr C tells us that he has enjoyed taking care of Mum and he seems genuinely upset at the way the cookie has crumbled. As we go to leave, Mr Mason tells Dr C that he is extremely glad that Mum ignored his medical advice and came out to Thailand in July to see Master Safaie. Dr C smiles and says that he is also glad that Mum ignored him and that he secretly hoped that she would although with his official Dr hat on he could never have said that at the time.
That afternoon, Mum’s Macmillan nurse visited us and helped us to get Mum a bit more comfortable in bed. It was a difficult task; the comfortable memory foam mattress not really conducive to safely moving and positioning someone. On the advice of all the nurses and support staff we decide to accept an inclining bed in order to keep Mum as comfortable as possible. Mum’s Macmillan nurse is fabulous and works fast to ensure that we have one the very next day.
Probably the only person oblivious to the unfolding horror is Master Safaie. There is something to be said for having a small child around to remain cheerful for. We play lots of ‘flying baby’ and take many smiley pictures. The Mason family also has a rich tradition of making up stupid songs including such titles as ‘Whoosh! Bardney-doo’ and ‘Are you a nincompoop? (The answer’s yes)’ so I try to entertain myself and others by writing a modern day nursery rhyme called ‘Brexit means Brexit’ which gets a few giggles.
On Thursday the bed arrives and the district nurse joins us to set up the mattress and help us move Mum across. Instead of the smooth transition we were hoping for, what occurs could have been set to Yakety Sax. The nurse tells us that the new bed is set up with the head of the bed pointing towards the window which is the opposite way that Mum’s current bed faces so we decide the rotate the new bed in order to ensure continuity for Mum. After rotating the new bed 180° (which is a bit of a tight squeeze) we slide Mum across from her old bed to her new bed in two or three movements. “Who wants to try the buttons?” asks the district nurse so Mr Mason obliges in order to raise Mum’s head. He presses the buttons and Mum’s legs begin to raise. The district nurse pauses for a second and then makes a face like someone who just remembered they left the gas on. She grabs the buttons and confirms that she has made a mistake and the bed is now the wrong way around. We have to move Mum back into her old bed, rotate the new bed once more and then transfer her across. We do all this as smoothly as we can but it isn’t comfortable for Mum and we apologise a lot. The district nurse is clearly mortified and keeps saying that this has never happened to her before (and I suspect never will again). Mum had been unable to take her steroids this morning as her ability to swallow anything had now gone and so the district nurse helps to arrange for a liquid version that can be delivered through a pump driver to be prescribed. Unfortunately, it is tricky to track down and although behind the scenes 14 pharmacies across Lincolnshire county are called, it isn’t available until the following day.
On Friday, Mr Mason, Mr Mason Jr, Ms Atherton and I surprise each other all morning by walking into Mum’s room to sit with her only find one or more of us already in there. We spend a lot of time with her and I sit Master Safaie in the crook of her arm and I continue to read her all the messages of love and support that she received through Facebook, her blog, text messages and emails. That morning I receive a very long and lovely email from her friend Ms Halford, whom she met whist training as a magistrate. This was a chapter of Mum’s life that I had all but forgotten and it was nice to be reminded of now. In spite of the email opening with “Shag Bandit!” and being signed off “Rubber Knickers xxx” (their nicknames for each other) behind the humour it was full of love and sadness and I feel choked up as I read it. Ms Halford was also the friend who accompanied Mum to the appointment for her initial diagnosis so there was a poignant symmetry in reading Ms Halford’s loving message today, bookending Mum’s journey with cancer.
Mr Mason, having picked up the liquid steroids busies himself with trying to get hold of a district nurse to administer them. Mr Mason Jr and I go to select some more music to put on for Mum to listen to since her Sandy Denny album had just finished. We flip through various CDs and joke inappropriately about putting on the ‘Family favourites’ CD (track number 1 being ‘The Laughing Policeman’) but finally settle on a Dusty Springfield compilation. The district nurse arrives and sets about giving Mum some more meds to keep her comfortable as well as the steroids. Meanwhile we try to get hold of Mum’s siblings to see if they can speak to Mum over the phone; her sister is due to arrive on Tuesday but it seems unlikely that Mum will be hanging on until then. Mr Mason reaches Mum’s sister and he holds up the phone to Mum’s ear. She speaks very gently to Mum, saying that she very much wants to see her on Tuesday and Mr Mason is sure that he sees recognition in Mum. The district nurse is still there and stays for a while longer organising more meds to get Mum through the weekend.
Once the district nurse leaves and Mum is looking more comfortable we all head downstairs, feeling better now Mum had received her steroids and a little more relaxed than we had felt all day. I speak with my husband on Skype and Ms Atherton makes some toasted sandwiches for a late lunch. At about 15:30, Dad pops back up to see Mum after eating his sandwich, coming down almost immediately and saying “I think she’s just gone”. We run upstairs, her bedroom strangely quiet and I check for her pulse which is absent. She was still warm and it seems as though she has only just slipped away. It’s all very surreal and we have only a few moments to absorb what has happened before the phone starts ringing. I’m not sure who it was but it was regarding Mum as I hear Mr Mason tell whoever it was at the end of the line “I think she has just died”. Mr Mason Jr and Ms Atherton take Archie and Lark upstairs to see Mum so that they know she is gone; this is something that Mum wanted and another reason that she was determined to remain at home until the end. The cats prove harder to wrangle but Mr Mason manages to find the small psychotic cat that Mum loved and takes her up for a farewell.
The Marie Curie rapid response team arrive a couple of hours later. They complete some paperwork and wash Mum before dressing her in fresh clothes, explaining to her what they are doing the entire time which is rather nice. Mr Mason calls the funeral directors and we say our goodbyes to Mum before they arrive about an hour later. The staff that arrive are nice enough but bring with them an odd formality which stands in stark contrast to everyone else that has been in to visit Mum over the past couple of weeks. We sit downstairs in the sitting room whilst they bring Mum down the staircase almost silently and put Mum into their vehicle. We stand by the gate as they depart, Mr Mason following the van to the entrance of the driveway waving her off “Bye Shelley, see you soon, darling” which brings a tear to my eye.
On Saturday we decide to take the dogs out to one of the last places Mum visited, Huttoft beach. It feels peculiar to have us all in the car at once without one of remaining at home with Mum. It’s a beautiful sunny day and we walk along the beach whilst the dogs run around racing and trying to bowl each other over. A middle aged woman is beachcombing for treasures in a drift line and Lark decides this is the perfect spot to have a poo to the hilarity of everyone but the woman. Another few people arrive and paddle out into the shallows to deposit the ashes of a loved one into the sea, cheering as they do so. Life goes on, even if it won’t quite feel the same as before. We have things to do and a funeral to arrange; details to be posted as soon as I have them.
(AKA: Mrs Safaie Jr)