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