I was watching a programme called 7up on the television recently. If you don’t know it, it started in the sixties where children were interviewed when they were seven, and every seven years the cameras caught up with them. The ‘children’ are now 63 and it has been fascinating. My mum and I followed it throughout the years and she has missed the last two now.
This last time it was they the first programme was different to the normal way it is presented. They had well-known celebrities watching as they discussed it. They always go through previous episodes first, and one boy in 28-up visited his mother’s grave.
A discussion by the celebs followed with each of them remembering when they lost a parent. It was clear the memories were still raw, even though some were elderly they never forgot the pain of losing someone.
It made me think how everyone has a story to tell, and even as many years have passed, it still break hearts. As spoke, I thought of my loss and how I coped with bereavement.
My parents passed away at more or less the same time. It was August 2010 when it all began.
Since that February Dad began losing weight and by the July he was just skin and bone. No one knew what was wrong, but something was afoot that we would never have guessed.
Hubby and I went for a weekend away, but instead of leaving the worry behind, it came with me. I couldn’t settle and rang Mum to check on him. Dad answered and normally we’d have a brief word before he passed me to Mum. This time he said I couldn’t speak to her because she was lying down. Mum, if she wasn’t well, slept on the settee, she never went to bed and she never, ever, refused to talk to me. I felt even more unsettled, so we went home earlier than planned.
On the journey back, my sister rang asking me to return as dad had been taken to hospital by ambulance. I told her we were on the way and would be there within the hour. She rang again half an hour later to say Mum had now been taken in by ambulance, too.
That was August 19th. Every day I made the 30 mile round trip to visit them in hospital.
Mum could not walk but was chirpy. Dad was just Dad, although he looked awful he was as always optimistic about getting well. He was going for a scan later and if it was clear he could go home.
It wasn’t. That was not what we expected, and neither did he.
I was with him when the doctors broke the news. It was pancreatic cancer, and he had only a few days to live. It was a total shock, and it completely devastated us.
The doctor asked if he suspected it and he said he hadn’t. He was so brave as he somehow accepted his time had come. The way he coped helped us all.
I went back to mum’s ward to tell her the news and burst into tears. Mum, in her usual take control, everything will be all right, manner, said, “Not you as well!” My sister was sitting there, her face red with tears.
The strange thing was, Mum didn’t want to see him. She listened to my news, and it was as if she didn’t believe it. Eventually, after some persuasion, she was taken down the corridor in a wheelchair to see him. They stayed together for a good hour and I’ve often wondered what they talked about. What could they talk about? How do you even have that conversation?
On 2nd September, Dad passed away with my brother by his side. Even though I knew it was coming, it was still a shock. The entire thing was surreal. You don’t expect things like that to happen to you.
We continuing visiting Mum, who couldn’t walk at all, and began acting strangely. No one said what was wrong with her. It was possibly a DVT blood clot, and she continued with tests. She began having hallucinations. This strong, opinionated woman I’d known all my life was suddenly stopped speaking. It was difficult to deal with. She wouldn’t answer questions and stared into space as we spoke. In times like this, it was always Mum we would turn to, except this was Mum and I didn’t know what to do. She stopped responding altogether. Then she closed her eyes and wouldn’t open them even though she was awake.
One day I had some news for her. “Mum, open your eyes,” I instructed. I wanted to show her a picture of my daughter’s new boyfriend. One she eventually went on to marry. She briefly opened them and it shocked me to see they were all milky and white. I don’t think she could even see.
We had to organise Dad’s funeral alone, Mum was in no shape to contribute anything. All the while we hoped she would get well enough to attend. Mum showed no interest as she retreated further into herself.
One day I visited, and it was obvious she’d had a stroke.
September 23rd was Dad’s birthday and the only day I took off from visiting. My sister stayed with her and she spoke and almost appeared lucid at times. Amanda said it was a good visit. I was sorry not to have been there. Dad’s birthday was hard, and I was exhausted. The following morning my Amanda rang and said, ‘Come now, there’s something wrong with Mum.’
We three sisters sat by her bedside as she quietly slipped away.
In The Magic of Stories book, I’ve included two stories about this. One is a poem about what happened. The second was a spur-of-the-moment decision I made to visit them at home before I went on holiday. It would be the last time I’d see them together in their house.
Everyone has a story to tell of a day that devastated their lives. What’s yours?