My mother had her left breast removed when she was 63, around the time her back pain became unbearable. Later, she had bowel cancer, and though the tumour was removed she had complications later- “adhesions”, where scar tissue or the healing process creates a blockage in the bowel. Shortly after I moved to England, she developed liver cancer. She became addicted to the morphine, and for some reason her oncologist thought this needed reversed: he stopped her morphine, and she suffered from withdrawal. Then he found that while the chemotherapy was inhibiting growth of the tumour, it was not reducing its size, so she decided to stop chemotherapy.
I told my colleagues that she was dying using the peculiar jargon of our trade. “I have made an application for Attendance Allowance- under the Special Rules- for my mother.” When I said she had only days left, my boss surprised me by giving me as much time off as I needed. I returned home to find her in bed, a week before she died.
We wanted her to die at home. We had a friend from the church who is a nurse, and my sister is a nurse. My father and I were fit enough. After we made this decision I had a client suffering from back pain and depression after nursing his wife through terminal cancer, but we were sure enough we could cope. We had the aids we needed. First, Dad had had a stair lift installed so Mum could go up stairs; then a wheelchair, so she could go out. She was embarrassed by the wheelchair, initially, as she did not want to be seen in this weak state, but soon got to enjoy sunshine and different views, as she was wheeled around. And now, we had incontinence pads for her to lie on, and a commode beside the bed. I arrived a week before her death.
All of her was in pain, but she would rather get up to the commode. As would I, of course. Elaine understood the steps involved, to move her legs, then get her into a sitting position, then lift her up, then turn her to lower her onto the commode. As the expert, Elaine preferred to do this herself, and I did it only once. As I held my mother with her arms around my neck, before lowering her, I had a sense of Love, felt and communicated by both of us. But I did it only once.
I decided after she died that this moment of love communicated totally would be my most important memory of her.
I have a memory which shames me, which I have told no-one: sent to the town centre for a flannel for a bed-bath, I had a choice between one for an adult, undecorated, and one for a child, with Postman Pat on it, which was wonderfully soft, far softer than the other. I chose the adult one, for appearance’ sake, though she needed that softness. Perhaps she would have, too- appearance is important to us.
Then I sat, on her seventieth birthday, beside the bed, not touching her- reading, to pass the time.