Half an orphan

This week has proved to be a momentous one. On Monday, I hear my mother is not well and is in hospital. She has spent less than twelve hours in a respite home when they call an ambulance for her as she is bringing up what looks like coffee grounds. This, I know, is a sign she is vomiting blood. On arrival at hospital, she has what look like grazes on her nose and her glasses are missing. It seems logical that she has had a fall and probably broken her glasses but the respite home staunchly denies this. As the week progresses, it seems less important yet it is something we touch on from time to time as we sit by her hospital bed.

By the time we arrive on Tuesday, she is not conscious although she can squeeze my hand when I hold it. She is breathing noisily and is positioned so her mouth lies wide open and it is obviously dry and uncomfortable as she frowns and moves her hand towards her mouth repeatedly. At this point, all treatment has been withdrawn and she will only receive pain relief and a swab to provide moisture in her mouth. My niece, K, has worked with the elderly before and is able to confidently do a lot of things I am unsure of.

For 3 days, on and off, we sit by my mother’s hospital bed, holding her hand, stroking her face and talking to her. K stays overnight with her so she is not alone at any point. Driving the 70 odd miles each way every day, stopping en-route to drop Dog off with Mr Mason’s parents, is exhausting. I squeeze a meeting in on Wednesday morning along with my usual group at Maggie’s but it feels as though our lives are put on hold for the week. No washing or cleaning gets done. Usual chores are left and the house goes to rack and ruin. My sleep, which is always variable, becomes worse and I feel beyond exhausted with a cluster of bad fibromyalgia headaches.

Master Mason comes with us on Wednesday afternoon and I am touched to see him gently hold his grandmother’s hand. On Thursday, we travel down earlier and spend just a couple of hours at the hospital before going on to see my father. As we are talking with him, the phone rings and it is K, telling him he should come back to the hospital. My mother’s breathing has been steadily declining but K thinks it has changed in a meaningful way so we take my father back to the hospital. We stay for another hour but the traffic has been challenging for the last two days and we don’t want another late night. K also reassures us the end will be soon but not within the next hour or so. We collect Dog and then drive home, arriving at 7pm. As I am literally on the doorstep, my brother phones to tell me my mother has died peacefully. Her breathing slowed and finally stopped. She had company all the way through her journey and had, I think, a good end.

By Thursday evening I am beyond tired and actually sleep well, heavily and solidly throughout the night. On Friday, I sit and try to catch up with work admin while resting. The surgeon has referred me for a body scan and has marked the appointment urgent. It arrives in the post and is scheduled for when we are taking the first holiday we have had since my diagnosis. The past 18 months have been an incredibly stressful time, mentally and physically. I feel people don’t understand because I know I didn’t understand before I had cancer. I didn’t realise how the effects of cancer keep going, long after the disease is invisible and, we hope, banished. It was only this time last year that it seemed death might be on the cards for me.

On Saturday morning, after a night of sleeplessness and finally dozing, I wake shouting for my Mum. It takes me a few seconds to realise what I’m doing and I can’t remember the last time that happened.
The coming week is going to be a challenge in so many ways. Getting my head back together in time for 2 meetings and a trip to the House of Commons, trying to be competent, chair meetings and appear on top of things. And I realise this blog is pretty much factual without the emotional content. I think that’s all I can do for now.

It’s not my grief

I have been mulling a blog post over for the last couple of days, talking about my life, my weekend, my kids. Until today. I read a friend’s blog post which has rocked me to my core. Her son who has autism died today in the mental health unit he was staying in. He was a young man, just 18 and getting his life sorted. I never met him but I know and like his mum very much and I feel physical shock so I can only imagine how the family must feel. It’s not my grief but I feel it like a punch to the solar plexus. God only knows how they’ll get through the next few days/weeks/months but all I can do is send them love and feel slightly guilty that my family is still intact.

The bone graveyard

I am struggling. Is it OK to admit that? I’m finding it tough? Letting the android/cyborg/superhero mask slip a little is both scary and a relief. Having a chest infection has sent me back to the sofa to watch trash on tv and play Candycrush (thanks to SR for leading me down that Primrose path :-)) It’s also given me huge anxiety about all the things I’m not doing and… oh, it’s the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ making a re-appearance. I should be coping better. I ought to be doing more around the house. Tears spring from nowhere, apparently unprovoked, leaving me breathless and sobbing. What’s it all about?

As usual, the answer is bloody cancer. How dare it rear its ugly, monstrous head at a point when I think I’m getting back onto my feet? Cancer isn’t just the tumour, the disease at cellular level, the physical stuff. It’s also so much about the emotional stuff, the unprocessed, the primeval fear, I guess. To be faced with the possibility of dying is a real shock and it takes its time to work through the system, the system being taken up with breathing, walking, talking, sleeping (sometimes) and just getting on with the business of staying alive. Once the imminent threat is past there is time to think ‘What the hell was that?’

It feels so much better to admit I can’t do it all and that some days I feel like Marge Simpson, sent demented by her family and coming to a halt crossways on a bridge. When the police approach the car, she turns and does a great snarly roar at them which has them backing off fast. So yeah, back off, life! Give me a break and give me some space.

I still don’t want to sit and wallow, though, to allow the bastards to grind me down so I prescribed some light activity to help. Dog makes a lot of smeary mess on the window in anticipation, fear, delight, anger, concern and sheer curiosity so I decided to tackle those as I can see them from my sofa retreat. This means moving Dog’s bed and what a treasure trove I found underneath it. A shoe, many unfinished bone projects (he is currently working on a joint from a leg of mutton but this is quite a long term project), stolen cat toys, treats stored for another day – a cornucopia of doggy delights. He came back from his run to find his bed moved and his stash revealed. He was very brave as we removed the worst offenders, reunited the cats with their toys and the shoe with its partner, threw away the googly eyes he loves to remove from toys and hoovered beneath, no doubt ruining the aroma he has been carefully tending for weeks.

He takes life in his (very long) stride and has simply flopped to the floor to lie in the sun. Maybe I should take a leaf out of his book.