For Mum

I used to love the New year when I was younger… the parties, the challenges and opportunities the New Year may bring

But I don’t really like it now.

Not that anyone would ever guess. I don my party dress, paint my smile, on and ‘party on hard’ with my friends.

You see my mum died on a New Year’s Day,  and its never  been the same since.

As some of you know, I was adopted as a child and had a very happy upbringing with my adoptive family. Mum was a strong, Irish, Catholic lady (as was, coincidentally,  my birth mother) who was very definitely the Matriarch of the household.

We were all brought up as strict Catholics, which meant, amongst many thing, fish on Fridays …. it was years before I could actually eat fish again…..confession on Saturdays, and Mass early Sunday mornings without any breakfast. Do you think this is why I rarely eat breakfast now?

I don’t actually practice the faith now, although  my children were christened in the Catholic Church, and attended the local Catholic School.

Perhaps if I had I wouldn’t have  been in trouble with my brothers on the day Mum died..

I can never really remember Mum being ill, she was always very active, busy, and houseproud.

She and Dad  moved to a different town after they retired, to be near friends.  Although we had all left home to pursue careers  etc, from that moment on the family home  never really felt like ‘home’ anymore. Bu they seemed very happy. They became very involved in the local church and made many new friends. Although Mum wouldn’t go to a lot of the ‘do’s’, such as  the Thursday Lunch Club, as she said  they were “for old folk and she didn’t need any “charity”  Dad would just nod and agree even though we knew he wanted to go! If we ever asked him why he didn’t  get Mum to go just to see what it was like  he would smile and say “oh , you know your Mum”

We always said that when, God forbid, anything happened to them. We hoped that Dad would go first, as we felt he would never manage without Mum. He depended on her greatly.

In the winter of 1989 we had one of the big flu outbreaks. Dad had his flu jab but Mum refused to have one ( I have always resisted having one, and let down various organisations and their annual targets!)

They both had colds, but nothing to worry about. Mum was 75 and Dad,  a  couple years older. Then one day, one of my  brothers rang me to say that Mum had flu and was quite poorly. I went to see her. She was sat in “her chair” and didn’t seem too bad although a “bit wheezy”

She  told us off for making a fuss and said she was fine. Promising to see a doctor if things didn’t improve.

Over the next few days Mum seemed to improve and said she was feeling much better, but she didn’t seem to have very much energy and didn’t go out very much, which was a bit unusual. But Mum, being Mum, told us she was fine and not to fuss.

Over Christmas she began to feel ill again and we managed to get her to see a doctor. He said she had a chest infection and prescribed antibiotics. They didn’t seem to be working and Mum’s health deteriorated. She became a little muddled and it was obvious she wasn’t managing so well. But, being that strong, proud, stubborn woman that she was , she denied it, and all offers of help. Dad seemed a bit blasé about it all, and kept telling us that they were “fine”

In those days I was still working full-time shifts as Ward Sister at the hospital,  had two small children, and a home to run. So perhaps didn’t go and see Mum as often as I should…something I deeply regret, and have to live with for the rest of my life.

Mum’s one great fear was that she would end up in a hospital or Nursing home (She had been a nurse for most of her working life too) She would frequently say to us “don’t you ever put me in a hospital, it will be the end of me”

Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve her health further deteriorated and eventually she agreed to seeing the doctor again……I was working, and my brother was in charge of things.

She was given more antibiotics and the doctor said he would visit the next day, New Year’s Eve.

When he returned it was obvious that Mum’s chest infection was not responding to treatment and he arranged for her to be admitted to the District hospital. Mum was horrified and protested greatly, but to no avail.

My brother rang me at work to tell me what was going on, and I said I would ring later and find out what ward she was on, and how she was.

Poor dad was by now beside himself and was happy for my brother to take over.

I rang the hospital later that evening, found out what ward she was on and was told she was on intra venous antibiotics, and was “as comfortable as possible” Oh God, how many times had I spouted those words to anxious relatives… and how pathetic and insincere they now sounded. The very “efficient” Staff Nurse suggested that we nominated one person to contact the ward as “they were very busy and it wasn’t helpful when loads of people kept ringing”

I had, at that point, not mentioned my profession. Always best. But before I got to the hospital someone had told them what I did for a living.

The next morning, New Year’s Day, I was working until lunch time. I rang the ward and was told Mum had improved. They were going to take down the intra venous antibiotics and move her from the side ward she was in to one of the main bays. I asked them to send her my love, and tell her I would be down to see her in the afternoon. I rang my brothers and sister and let them know what I’d been told.  My daughter K, who was 7, said she wanted to come with me to see Grandma.

I left work and went straight to the hospital with K. When I got there I couldn’t find Mum anywhere. I eventually managed to catch a nurse’s eye and ask where she was. “Oh yes” she said ” You’re the daughter who’s a nurse aren’t you”. It wasn’t said with much warmth or friendliness.

She went to say that they were very busy and hadn’t had time to move Mum yet, but that she had eaten her lunch and was feeling much better, pointed to the room she was in and said to go on in.

So with my 7-year-old daughter skipping on ahead we went into see her, expecting to see her sitting up and looking a little better.

What actually faced me was my Mum lying in the bed, an empty intra venous drip still in place and the remains of her lunch around her mouth….. dead. And a screaming 7-year-old.

I found a nurse who came with me and very matter of factually said “yes, you’re right, she’s dead”

At that point all professionalism, logic, and objectivity flew out the window. I just wanted my Mum back. I didn’t want to look after K. I didn’t know what to do. It was surreal and I felt like I was in some sort of soap opera. Mum couldn’t be dead, in a minute the nurse would tell me they had made a mistake and she was just sleeping.

I took K back down to her Dad, who was in the car with her 2-year-old brother, told him what had happened… and they went home, leaving me on my own.

I went back to the ward, I still hadn’t contacted my brothers or sister, I thought perhaps the Staff Nurse would have done it.

I sat with Mum and held her hand. A doctor came in and said , of course,” he didn’t need to tell me what had happened. “I must be used to it”.. used to it??

Was he so insensitive ? or just totally lacking in any communication or people skills?

All I could think was that Mum’s finger nails were dirty, she’d been in hospital for less than 24 hours and she would have been horrified. So I went on a search for a pair of scissors to clean them.  I then asked if they had contacted my brother, the Nurse said no, she thought I would want to do it. By this time I suppose about an hour had passed.

I decided to ring my youngest brother first, and how I wish I hadn’t. The first thing he asked was had I called a Priest…well, of course I hadn’t. It hadn’t even crossed my mind. After a few more “words” he said he was going to come in and I had better sort the Priest. Have you ever tried to find a Priest on New year’s Day? Not easy I can tell you. I managed to track one down and he duly arrived and gave Mum the last rights. Although to this day my brother says it was too late.

One by one my brothers arrived, my sister lived in London so wasn’t able to be there.

It’s a very strange feeling. There’s nothing you can do, the Nurses didn’t really seem to know what to say to us. We weren’t even offered a cup of coffee. There were other things that were said or intimated that I still can’t verbalise.

Now, I would stand up and support  nurses and doctors  to the ends of the earth normally, but in this case I can honestly say I was ashamed that I belonged to the profession. I can only hope  it made me a better person when dealing with distressed relatives. It certainly made me stop and think. One of the practical things I did was to design and produce a booklet for bereaved relatives which, hopefully, would guide them through the maze that follows a death.

The next few days passed in a haze. I went to work the next day, thinking it was the best way to deal with things, but had to go home after an hour.

And then there was the death to register, the funeral to arrange, ( I remember thinking there was far too much laughter, and far too much whiskey being drunk when my brother, Dad and the parish priest were arranging it ), and  relatives to inform. And, of course, Dad to look after. He was in complete shock and happy to do whatever he was asked to do. My middle brother  took charge of most of these things.

Mum was brought back to the local chapel of rest and I went to see her the day before  the funeral. She didn’t look like Mum. She had eye shadow, blusher and lipstick on.She never wore that, and all I wanted to do was wash it off. I didn’t take K with me as I thought I was protecting her. In fact it was the worst mistake I made. she was very angry with me for not allowing her to see Grandma as she had looked so awful when she had seen her. She refused to come to the funeral with us. On the day Sister M, her headmistress brought her, and she said she was pleased she came.

As for Dad, how did he cope after mum had gone? Did he fall to pieces?  Forget to eat? Let the house go to rack and ruin?

No!  He somehow found a whole new lease of life. His friends from the church rallied around supported him. He went to the Thursday lunches, and on loads of coach trips. On one of those trips he met a lovely lady, who was to become his friend and companion until he died 5 years later.  Although I think some of the family found it a little difficult to accept for a while, until they saw how happy they were together.

And so tomorrow night I shall.  glam up and celebrate the New Year with a group of very good friends. My smile will never slip, and they’ll never know how I feel inside.

But on New Year’s Day, when my house guests have left, I shall escape to my favourite beach and, hopefully, will find peace and solitude, and time to remember Mum

Love you Mum and miss you very much

 

 

 

Live and Let Dye…..or The Trials of Teenage Boys and their Love Lives

I was talking about dyeing hair the other week with one of my Twitter friends, and it reminded me of the time one of my eldest son’s girlfriend decided to dye her hair purple  in my bathroom.

Now, my children have always gone in for fairly long-term “relationships” from early ages. K, my daughter, went out with a boy from the age of 14-16. Then went on to meet the lad who was to become her husband.

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Master Chef met the “love of his life” at the tender age of 15 and was with her until she cruelly dumped him the morning after he had lavished her with 18th birthday presents. Apart one further brief foray into the world of romance ( you’ll see later) he has remained resolutely single….despite the best efforts of my friend’s daughter!

Which just leaves  A, the middle son. Now A is a Aquarian day dreamer and idealist, and boy did he wear his heart on his sleeve during his formative years during which time we saw a steady stream of young ladies wander through the house. Some stayed for quite a long time, some for a couple of months, some a couple  of weeks, and  a few  a couple of hours!

The first one to make an impression was K. A petite blonde with a mean line in delicious puddings!! She often came to Sunday lunch armed with a wonderful creamy, fat inducing creation. K was on the scene for about 15 months until she was caught sidling up to the captain of the under 16’s Rugby captain. We didn’t see her after that.

images (24)But to this day I still use the Strawberry Cheesecake recipe she gave me (Isn’t it supposed to be the other way round??)

Oh well, you all know I was never a domestic goddess.

Anyway poor A was heartbroken. He mopped about the house, slammed doors, couldn’t eat, couldn’t do homework for what seemed like an eternity, but was in fact about 4 days until he was taken to a local club by his friends to cheer him up. By the next morning, miraculously, A was in love again.

Can’t remember her name, but suffice to say she was a leggy blonde with a piercing giggle! she didn’t  stay long enough to be invited for Sunday lunch but still managed to cause A considerable heartache. He, of course, was always the innocent party in these matters.

By now he was a musician of some note…well he was lead singer and played guitar in a local band that were doing pretty well in the area, and as he was now almost 6′ and, what he liked to call, slim ( I called it his emaciated look) It was during this time that my eye make up and dark coloured nail varnish started to disappear!!

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There was always a gaggle of girls hanging around hoping to catch a glimpse of him.

The next one who appeared to catch his attention was C, a girl from his tutor group at school.  A lovely, smiley girl with long dark hair, an infectious laugh, and love of animals. C was on the scene for over 2 years , and an almost permanent fixture in our house. She was very easy to get on with and even had one of our kittens..which endeared her to Master Chef. In fact, when K and G got married there were photos of A and C than the Bride and Groom!  They were inseparable and most people thought they were another match made in heaven.

There was a small blip when C somehow persuaded A to buy her some mice, which I discovered were living in his bedroom, she wasn’t allowed to have them at home.  I was less than ecstatic, particularly when I discovered that they weren’t 2 male mice and had managed to produce about 15 babies!!!

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These were quickly dispatched to the pet shop where they had come from!! I could smell mice in that bedroom for years afterwards

Unfortunately, the big romance all fell apart as they were taking their GCSEs  and they were both heartbroken. To this day, no one really knows what happened… perhaps the stress of exams…..but they both held a torch for each other for quite some time afterwards. They even ended up living in London at the same time. I have remained good friends with C, and last Christmas she brought her boyfriend to meet me. He joked he had never had to meet the approval of his girlfriend’s ex’s mother before! They are now happily engaged, and the proud parents of a gorgeous little girl, and I still see her regularly for a chat.

After C there was a plethora of  girls ringing the door bell and appearing, looking a little sheepish, in the mornings. Which was, at time,s embarrassing for both them and us.

A couple turned out to stay slightly longer than some. One, a painfully shy girl, who was a vegetarian but hardly ever seemed to eat anything, despite me making her meals when she stayed. she disappeared as mysteriously as she had appeared, though I still saw her around, and she always inquired after everyone. The last time I saw her she had just completed a Journalism course in Cornwall and was heading to Norway to live.

She replaced by a 6th form class mate of hers! Now  J was a lovely girl, very intelligent but with little common sense and incredibly gullible. I remember one Sunday when she came to lunch. I’d not made any custard to go with pud, and had sent someone to the supermarket to get some of their own. J was raving over this custard, and asked if I had made it myself….I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help myself…..I told I had, but that often people felt intimidated by my cooking skills, so I use to buy supermarket custard, empty the container and then pour mine in there. As the whole table dissolved in laughter (I’m afraid my children all share my warped sense of humour) J fell for it hook, line, and sinker. And promptly went home and told her mum!!

I’m afraid I wasn’t terribly popular with her parents after a conversation I had with J, on one of the many nights she was left with me while A went off to band practice. J was a brilliant artist and really wanted to be an architect but her parents wanted her to go to Cambridge and study English. She had been offered a conditional place there but was still not sure. I told her she should follow her heart and do what she wanted to do, not what her parents wanted her to do. This resulted in her applying and being accepted at Bath. She is now in her final year and very happy….and, yes, I do see her and we are friendly. A thinks its hilarious that his ex’s run across the road to speak to me when they see me!!

And so we finally meet “hair dye” girl. L was considerably younger than A, and in fact had been going out with master chef. She was a bit of a rebel without a cause, which was a shame as she was a very clever and artistically talented girl, but Master chef seemed happy. He had passed his driving test and he would often drive her home from school to save her waiting for the bus. We didn’t know much about her until A rang me at work one day to inform me that “his baby brother had a girl in his bedroom”. We were all delighted! and he seemed happy again.

However a few weeks later, he had the obligatory 17 yr old’s car crash, writing off his car but luckily escaping with little injury. suddenly she didn’t seem so interested in him and the next thing we knew she was with A! She later told me she only went out with master Chef to get to A!!

It caused, as you may imagine, a real upset and rift between the boys, and they didn’t truly get over it until A came back from London.

Anyway  the day after L’s 16th birthday she practically moved in with A… much to my chagrin.( By this time we had made A his own little den..he had left home and returned as he couldn’t afford the rent, and neither could I anymore!)

L seemed to think that she could help herself to anything she fancied in the house, from food to my make up and bath stuff

I’d often come back from work to find her drying her hair with my drier and using my hair products. Then they’d just be dropped for me to put away.I had a word with A and asked him to speak to her about it but he said I was being “picky” and didn’t like her (true but wasn’t the point in question)

I did try hard to “bond” with her, taking her out for milk shakes and trying to engage her in conversation when she was left with me while A was at his beloved band practice. It wasn’t easy, she had a practically non existent relationship with her mother and obviously tarred me with the same brush. I said to A that she had to go back home to her father but he said she couldn’t as they had just had a terrible row and it was only temporary until she also was planning to go to college in Cornwall.  Things were very tense and we were at a complete stand-off……….

Then came  “TOWELGATE”…….

I had recently bought some lovely new cream bath towels  as had some friends coming to stay for the weekend

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I came home from work early one day and went upstairs to the bathroom to do something, as I entered I was greeted with a scene straight out of Psycho, only  PURPLE!!

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There was purple all over the bath, up the walls…..and all over my beautiful new cream bath towel!!

I cried!

A denied it was anything to do with either him or L but seeing as I couldn’t see anyone else with purple hair I was less than inclined to believe him.

L was packed off home to her father almost instantly. There was never any apology or offer to help clean the bathroom or replace the towels. They split up shortly after that, something to do with the fact she found some other poor mug to take her in,

Needless to say we did not remain friends, and the only thing I do know is that she never did go to Cornwall to pursue her dream.

Well after that A met his current girlfriend and the rest, as they say, is history

And I have a lovely set of cream bath towels  hidden away at the back of the airing cupboard!