Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Never Say Never


I had thought that The Last Post was the last post; on this blog at least. I'd set up a new blog on Wordpress and planned to make it more 'multimedia', beginning with a podcast featuring my mother and her friends talking about the day war broke out.

I wanted to record their stories before it was too late.

Sadly, it already was too late. My mother had a major heart attack ten days ago, but didn't realise what had happened and simply thought that she was unwell. By the time she was admitted to hospital, four days later, the damage to her heart was irreversible.

She didn't know that she was dying. During my last visit, only ten hours before her death, my mother asked me to bring a comb with me when I returned, as she was concerned that her perm was in a mess. I made a note to buy one the next day.

The hospital phoned several times during the night, but I was sound asleep and heard nothing. When I finally answered, a doctor told me to get there as soon as I could. I raced across the South Downs in the dark, jumping the traffic lights when there were no other cars. I arrived just in time.

My mother was asleep, with an oxygen mask over her face. The doctor didn't beat around the bush: "I'm afraid your mother is dying. I don't think it will be long. We've done everything we can to make her comfortable." The nurse stroked my arm and the doctor asked if we had any religious requirements. I shook my head.

The oxygen mask steamed up every time my mother exhaled. I noticed that her left eyelid was half open, but I had been assured that she wasn't conscious. I wondered how things could have changed so much over a few hours.

I took my phone out and sent a text to my wife to let her know what was happening. After pressing send, I looked up and noticed that the oxygen mask was clear. The nurse took my mother's wrist: "She's gone." A heart that had been beating continuously since 1929 had stopped.

It was a shock, but also a relief. My mother had died a peaceful, dignified death, blissfully unaware of what was happening to her. If she'd lived, she would have had a pretty awful existence, needing help with even the most basic tasks. She had always dreaded ending up in a home or 'going potty' and selfishly, I dreaded it too. 

In spite of decreasing mobility, my mother had led a pretty active life right up until the end. She spent her last two weeks hobbling around the streets of Lewes, determined to get one of the new plastic five pound notes. I don't know why she was so excited by them, but it became something of an obsession.  Sadly, she didn't find one.

I felt that I had to write this post, as I have written about my mother so many times and didn't want to leave out the end of the story.

I have just started to receive cards through the post. Whenever I see the phrase "passed on", I silently cringe, partly because my mother hated it so much: "They haven't passed on; they've died," she would always say. I'm not sure why it made her so angry, but perhaps growing up surrounded by death, during the London Blitz, gave her a contempt for the coyness of the modern age.

People are being very nice to me, saying how shocked I must feel, but my overwhelming emotion is one of gratitude that my mother lived as long and as well as she did. I've witnessed some pretty horrible deaths over the years and it was a huge relief to see my mother die peacefully.

At some point, I hope I'll be able to write something about my mother's life, but for the moment this is as much as I can do.

I will post a link to the new blog when it's ready.

34 comments:

Tim Atkinson said...

I'm so sorry to hear such sad news, especially stopping by for the first time in a long time. It's so wonderful your mother was so active until so recently, and what a beautiful photo.

Steerforth said...

Thank you Tim.

David Gouldstone said...

I'm very sorry to hear this.

Beautifully and movingly written.

There's a line in Noel Coward's 'This Happy Breed': 'She didn't pass over or pass away or pass out, she died.'

Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear your news - but you are right to be glad that she didn't linger. My father died very quickly last summer and though the shock was great, the relief now that he didn't spend months suffering is even greater.

kaggsysbookishramblings

Anonymous said...

You wrote some fascinating stories earlier in your blog about the life of someone you didn't even know. It should be fairly easy to write about someone that you knew all your life. When a loved one dies, there are always mixed emotions. My mother lived through the blitz and thankfully is still around to pass on stories about that time in London to my children, although they (understandably) think of it as 'Nana's stories' and not much else. Hopefully when she's gone they'll at least recall some of it. I'm very sorry for your loss but completely understand your relief.

Judith said...

What a kind tribute to your mother. I am sorry to hear about her death but loved reading this post as I think we all secretly would like a "Good Death" for relatives or ourselves rather than the feared long drawn out disintegration.

Travellin' Penguin (Pam) said...

It is so nice to hear from you though the circumstances are sad. A wonderful tribute to your mother. She looked a beautiful woman from the pictures you posted. I look forward to hearing from you again when things are a bit happier. All the very best. Pam

rshepherd1964 said...

I'm so sorry to hear your news about your mother. It's a blessing that she was living a normal life and was spared the knowledge that it had come to an end. And later, when you're able to write them, I look forward to reading your stories about her.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I am so sorry for your loss Steerforth. It must have come as a shock. But what a lovely tribute. And what a good life lived well. I share your gladness that her worst fears about 'going potty' or ending up in a nursing home didn't come to pass and she achieved 'a good death'.

And please don't apologise for blogging! Some of us prefer good writing to too much multi-media.

M. Denise C. said...

My condolences, Steerforth. Wonderful pictures and tribute to your mother. I am glad you made it to her side. Take care, MDC.

Val said...

Your Mother sounds like she was quite a character.
I'm sorry she died before you could record her memories.
I'm glad she died peacefully without having to suffer a long illness or loss of dignity.
My Mother made it to 90 and lived her life well (she was born in 1923) but her last two years had some sad moments as she was unwell and that I would not wish on anyone.
Euphemisms can be funny can't they although I understand people can be more comfortable with them . 'Lost' is the one that gets me... it always makes me smile and think "how careless" at entirely inappropriate times.
I think when a life has been long and well lived memories are a mix of sadness and celebration. It sounds like your Mum lived life well and was loved and who can ask for more than that.

Flavia said...

Thank you so much for writing about this, especially as you'd earlier been open enough to admit that your mother could at times be irritating. I feel a bit awkward, in my British way, in sending condolences since I don't know you, but I've felt a connection (nothing stalkerish) from the time you wrote that you think about your own death every day. Me too: it seems only natural (it's not as if there aren't plenty of other thoughts as well) and not morbid at all, but I've found others think it unusual and unhealthy.

Sarah said...

Thank you for sharing this. I lost my 90 year old mother this year and it is very much a time of mixed emotions. Sad for the loss but glad that they have had a long and happy life. Look forward to hearing from you again in the future.

Anonymous said...

I'm very sorry to hear about your mom. Virtual hugs and good strong drink.

Desperate Reader said...

I'm sorry to hear she's gone, glad that it was as painless and dignified as possible, and find I'm really wishing she'd found one of those fivers.

Letterslive said...

I'm so sorry to hear this, but thankful that she lived a good life and died a good death. Much consolation in that, I hope.
My parents are 95 and 96 and their quality of life has deteriorated greatly in the last few years. It ain't fun either for them or for us as onlookers.
Best wishes, Frances.

tristan said...

i'm grateful to your mum for raising a boy who turned out to be such a lovely humane writer

Tororo said...

Dear Steerforth, thanks for sharing with us something that's in so many ways uneasy to share. I know for a fact that I'm as capable as anybody to write something awkward about someone else's loss, so I'll stick to the simplest "take care".

Kid said...

It's at times like this that I realize how inadequate words can be. However, there was nothing inadequate about your words in this poignant post. You did her proud, Steerforth - in the way you've lived and in the way you've written about her demise.

Little Nell said...

I repeat what I said to you before, and echo your own sentiments regarding the relatively quick and peaceful end to her life. Your mother was much like mine in being so active, thank goodness. At nearly 96 Mum has only just ‘caved in’, due to dementia, and gone into a home. She’s happy enough, but it depresses me beyond measure, and it’s not what I wished for her. You aren’t being selfish at all.

I agree with her dislike of ‘passed on’ and even ‘passed away’ though I’m gulity of that one. I loathe the modern use of the singular ‘passed’. I know you will eventuallay want to write more about her and I look forward to those posts.

Unknown said...

Just a note to send you my condolences. I'm so glad to read your mum didn't linger in pain. I thought of her today as I was given my first one of the new plastic fivers, and then I wondered, as I have done before, whether I ever met your mother on a trip into Woolworth's when she worked there. The version of Teddington that included the old Woolworth's is one I look back on very warmly. I'm sorry you and I never met back then, I think we may have found each other very sympathetic companions. Very best wishes, Chris x

Clive said...

A little voice told me to check your defunct blog, Phil, and I am saddened to hear of your mother's death and send my sympathy to you and your family. Her little foibles and sayings always amused me, reminding me of my own mother who gritted her teeth and toughed it out until she reached one hundred years and three months of age, finally dying with a smile on her face on my father's birthday, 16 December. He had been waiting for her for 31 years.

Martin Hodges said...

Your posts are always so well written, Steerforth. Although the death of your mum is a solemn occasion, you have shared your thoughts and feelings with eloquence and honesty. Like other visitors, I look forward to reading more about you and yours at some time in the future.

Toffeeapple said...

I am sorry that this was the reason for your posting. It is good that you are so positive about your Mum's dying, it will help you in the future.

Best wishes.

Rog said...

Sorry to hear the news - you have exteded your mum's fan base around the world. Totally understand the strange mix of sorrow and relief.

joan.kyler said...

Even though you said in your previous post that that was the last post, I've kept your blog on my favorites list. I've only checked once to make sure you hadn't changed your mind, but something made me look again today.

I'm very sorry to hear about your mother's death, but I'm very happy for her and for you that it was quick, peaceful, and dignified. A good death.

Marsha said...

I'm so sorry to hear this news, but happy to know that the end came peacefully for her and with dignity. You've written a lovely tribute to her here.

Katharine A said...

Lovely.

Sam Jordison said...

Im sorry for your loss. But thank you for writing such a moving tribute.

Nige said...

A moving tribute, and an honest account of a 'good death'. I felt much the same about my own mother's death - sad and shaken of course, but grateful for her life and love, and that she had been spared worse. My condolences.

Anne said...

Very sorry to hear this. It's a wrench to lose a parent. You honour her so movingly.

connika said...

Thank you for sharing and thank you for posting this beautiful photograph.

Lucille said...

I have checked in on a sudden impulse from New York and want to send you my thanks for telling us of the end of this particular story.
A good end I agree and compassionately told.

helen said...

I'm sorry to read this. I'm glad it was a good death, but it is still tough for you. My condolences.