When I was a child I used to be terrified of losing my Mum. Either she'd run away, as Dad did, or she'd get hit by a bus or die of a terrible disease… you get the idea. The very thought could have me in tears.
I have been lucky. I have had my Mum as both mother and closest friend for 51 years. And now I know what it is like to lose her, for I lost her on December 28 last year. It's numbing. It's a deep awfulness inside. It's incomprehensible to me that I shan't see her again or hear her voice, or feel her arms around me and mine around hers.
Mum had a stroke on 17 December and lasted ten days, fluctuating in the first week between a vague lucidity and a coma-like state. She couldn't move her left side. In the first few days she could talk in that the sounds she made were occasionally comprehensible. She only said one sentence clearly, five days after her stroke: "Get me a jelly bean." That might sound nuts but it was a perfectly sane request by a diabetic worried that she hadn't eaten in days (she couldn't eat and was being fed via a tube).
If seeing her - this vital, wonderful, active woman of 88, she who was more up to date on current affairs and politics than I - lying incapable in a hospital bed festooned with tubes and monitors wasn't bad enough, the last week was the worst of my life.
You see, the three specialists I spoke to all said it would be kinder to turn off the food and water and let nature take its course, as it was clear Mum would never recover and the best she could hope for would be a couple of months in a nursing home before the grim reaper paid a visit. Knowing Mum's horror of nursing homes, especially after seeing her own sister-in-law in the same situation, I agreed with them, feeling sick with guilt at the decision and in floods of tears.
What can be crueller than to watch the person you love most in the world fade away day by day?
Until almost the very last Mum could squeeze my hand or kick the blanket with her 'good' leg to answer yes/no questions, but even that wasn't enough to convince the doctors she had a fighting chance. They had her on low dose morphine and increased it when a gland in her neck started to swell and was obviously painful.
I did my mourning and grieving while Mum was still alive, being as brave as I could as I sat by her bed, talking of everyday things, telling her about the birds in the umbrella tree outside her house, telling her about the weather and mainly telling her I loved her.
It was outside the ward, in the corridor, that I would burst into racking sobs, wanting her back as she was, a bit frail but still independent, funny and clever.
When the phone call came at 3.45 in the morning, my heart turned to lead. We raced to the hospital but were fifteen minutes too late. I had asked the nurse to tell Mum we were coming, to hang on, but I think even her strong will couldn't overcome the inevitable. That, or she didn't want me to see her die, and I'm rather grateful for that if it's the case. Watching her dying was one thing, seeing her take a last breath would have been a killer for me.
I wanted to blog this as it was happening, to pour out my raw soul, but the internet connection at Mum's house where we were staying while she was in hospital was too slow. I had enough on my plate without ISP frustration.
So now it's nearly two months later, and I am ashamed that I don't cry on a daily basis; when I think of Mum though I get a beautiful feeling of warmth, as if she is still there beside me. I can imagine I'm putting my arms around her and I can feel her body, the shoulder that was damaged in a car crash in the 1960s slightly lower than the other. It's a feeling of comfort rather than a feeling of loss, and I am grateful and glad my mind has decided I will transmute my grief to this rather than be the wreck I thought I would be, depressed and howling on the hour. I have had to be strong; Mum was a strong woman and I think I have somehow, in these weeks, garnered some of her amazing spirit. Maybe she's still around. I hope so.
I may have lost Mum, but I will never lose her. Does that make sense? I think it does. I love you, Mum.