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Some of you will already know that the reason for my (longer than anticipated) blog hiatus is that I lost my mother.  She was 91 years old, and suffering from horrible arthritis, but she was still living independently with help from my brother and sister-in-law, and her mind was still pretty much A1.  She was getting rather good at malapropisms, and creative pronunciation, and her memory occasionally played tricks on her, but what the hell?

On the day of the Royal Wedding (which she would have certainly have watched with delight) she got herself her dinner, and when she had finished eating, she got up to make a cup of tea, had a massive stroke and lay unconscious on the floor beside her chair all night, where my poor brother found her the next morning, and deduced by the empty plate and lack of tea cup what had happened.  She didn’t have time to call for help.  Her phone was right there on the low table beside her.

She lived for five days in hospital but never came round, and it’s a very hard thing to do, to visit someone whose body is still there but whose mind has essentially gone.

One the first day she struggled to open her eyes when asked to do so, barely managing to crack the lids.  The familiar blue eyes that I caught a glimpse of did not show any recognition – in fact, they were quite blank.  She did squeeze my hand at intervals, less and less strongly, for the succeeding three days, though only with her left hand, because she was quite unable to move any of her right side.

However, the doctors told me the scans showed that she’d lost two thirds of her left hemisphere and that she would be unable to recover, so they withdrew fluids and began giving her only pain relief and drugs to keep her ‘comfortable’.   If it’s a hard thing to visit a seriously ill, unresponsive person, it’s doubly hard to watch your lovely, bright and chatty mother dying slowly of dehydration … though we all agreed that she wouldn’t want to wake up if she was anything less than fully compos mentis.

I stayed close by, in a hotel, and the Stroke Unit allowed me to get there early and leave as late as I liked.  Most days I wasn’t alone with Mum for long.  People came from London, from Devon, from Wolverhampton, from Norfolk, from wherever they were.  One relative, a vicar, flew back from Spain and drove directly to her bedside to conduct a short service.  Some couldn’t be there, of course, either because they were prevented, or because they simply couldn’t bear to be, but that was OK.  She had a lot of visitors, and we chatted to her and held her hand and told her we loved her, and my sister-in-law had the bright idea of tuning the hospital radio to her beloved Radio Essex, and we also talked and laughed among ourselves because if she was aware that we were there and was able to hear us, we wanted her to experience just a little normality, with her family behaving as they always had done – although at times, of course, we cried, too.

Mum and I didn’t always see eye to eye.  We had our different ideas on things, and I got annoyed with her for still thinking of me as her ‘baby’ and for talking endlessly about people I didn’t know, and no doubt she got annoyed with me for not behaving as she thought I should, and not listening to her properly, but she was my Mum and I loved her despite everything, as I know she loved me.   To say that she leaves a big hole behind is an understatement – and so many people have told me so since she left us: relatives, people she knew from work (yes, she was still in touch with many of them, even at ninety-one), and friends she’d made, both decades ago and more recently.

I want to thank all of those who left kind messages on my last post, and sent condolences and sympathy.  It does, somehow, help enormously to know that people have been thinking of me during this horrible time.   I don’t want to go on about just how horrible it was, but one reason I haven’t posted before now is that I’ve been suffering physical symptoms of stress and grief.  For the first couple of weeks, the ones between her death and her funeral, I had pretty much constant migraine, with five, bigger, ‘classical-migraine-with-aura-and-word-salad’ episodes.  I dared not drive, and I couldn’t use the computer for more than a few minutes without the flashes of light and almost-hallucinations getting too much to cope with.

As I’m able to, I’ll post some short pieces about Mum and her life.  It’s been an interesting and full one, and she’s always been true to herself.  And just for that alone, she won’t have anything much to apologise for at the Pearly Gates, I think.

Some of the family have been suggesting (with very little subtlety) that I might take on her role as ‘keeper of the family together’, or to put it bluntly, matriarch.  Mum was the spider at the centre of the web, who always knew whose birthday it was and who was ill or had troubles or joys before anyone else.  But those shoes of hers are Very Big Shoes to fill, and I might find I can’t walk in them.

*The shoes pictured above, by the way, are the ones she wore at her 90th birthday party, where she was – as always – a star.