There were points last night when I had cried so much my head hurt. Despite being rung out and exhausted, sleep would not come.
I was grateful for the six hour time difference back to Austin. Because, though it is in the middle of the night UK time, home in Texas its early evening. So I am able to FaceTime my husband and kids.
My son. is quiet and withdrawn. Having been handed the phone by his sister, he doesn’t move but stands silhouetted against the light like a witness in a mob crime drama. He asks, as if scripted, ‘how are you?’
He is a kind and sensitive boy . But at thirteen grief is just one of the so many new emotions he is grappling with. My mum will be the first person that he has been close to who will die. His 100 year old great grandmother still lives on post stroke. He is bright and loving but I feel I could be speaking Japanese for all he understands my talk of pain relief and timescales.
My daughter is endlessly supportive with her focus on me rather than my mum. Wisely she tells me to look up as much as I can about it and it will seem more manageable. She is right it does. Even though I can’t touch her, the sight of her face over the web is immeasurably reassuring.
Talking to her I am reminded of my daily FaceTime chats with mum. Some how seeing someone as well as hearing them can be so much intimate but also more casual. Mum has FaceTimed me when I was in HEB (our local supermarket) and in the carpark when I was waiting to pick up my kids from the School of Rock wher they learn electric and bass guitar. I have caught her out in a restaurant (and been shown the mouthwatering food she is eating) or often late at night in her study writing her own blog for Halesworth in Bloom. Those simple everyday things that have no huge individual significance but put together make up the web of life.
I am in floods of tears again when I talk to my husband.
‘Cry’ he says ‘I know you would if you were in my arms’ and the silent sobs come in wave after wave. It is so hard to face this, but as an expat even harder, with my life and husband so far away.
In the morning I am relieved to discover it is 6am and I must have finally slept two hours. I start what will be a constant drip of coffee till my sister arrives at 11.30.
Today I feel like I have at least a week grip on the lid of my tears. As the day goes by, and people come to offer help and support, I am reminded of when a friend of mine at work was managing with her father dying of cancer. She said to me
‘please don’t be nice to me’ . It didn’t make complete sense at the time. I was concerned and wanted to support her.
But today I understand.
In really unfortunate timing the Heritage Open day, that my dad has been working on for months, is this weekend. My parents were due to open up their lovely hundred and fifty year old house to tours of visitors. I want to cancel but my mum, knowing how much it means to my dad insisted that it should go ahead. But I made sure that Dad contacted the other people in the group to explain the situation. He did. At 9am a lovely couple are here to help and arrange other people to actually carry out the tours. I offer them coffee as they talk through schedules and helpers with my dad. I struggle to find the sugar in my parents overly crammed and inexplicably organised storage cupboard. But I do and manage to serve up three cups of coffee and hold a calm warm conversation about what’s going on.
I feel proud of myself until they lean into hug me goodbye and say ‘we are thinking of you, anything we can do let us know’ It is lovely and I really appreciate their genuine care for mum and me. But this kindness opens up my suppressed emotions. I don’t know them that well, so I hope they understand when I practically shove them out of the front door. When it shuts my tears flow and I sob noisily.
Then my dad asks me to FaceTime mum. I do and am so gladdened to see her smiling and face relaxed. The pain medication is working. This was step one. All my web browsing under my daughters advice has said to take things one step at a time. It does help. There is nothing we can do to stop the inevitable outcome but a lot we can do to make her last few weeks worthwhile.
The next step is to decide where she should spend that time. . Yesterday, in the grips of relentless pain, she did not want to eat or come home but just go to a hospice to die. However, I am selfish. I want her home. I don’t want to spend my last time with her in an unfamiliar place miles away. I don’t want to spend large parts of that time in a car driving. Also, I just can”t accept that I will never see her again in this house and garden she made so beautiful and loves so much.
Despite this I am ready to accept that she must navigate this journey her own way.
This morning though, her views have changed. I am thrilled to find that, unimpeded by pain and thinking calmly, she wants to come home.
She tells me that the hospital is working with her on a discharge plan to get her home. They have talked practically about what she will need. They have already arranged a hospital bed to be delivered to our house and three times a day nursing care for her personal care and medical needs. She has always been an indomitable maker and implementer of plans. She did it as a headteacher and in recent years to transform Halesworth into a town full of plants and gardeners.
It’s so wonderful to see the frail and helpless figure of yesterday metamorphosize back into the organising mother I know so well. I have never been so happy to receive her long list of tasks: Move the sofa to the stables. Get a wheekchair from the Red Cross. Arrange for ramps to be put in the house and planks accross the gravel drive to make using the wheel chair easier. Talk to the GP surgery about what they can contribute to her care package.
I know there will be good days and bad days. Thankfully this day, with her pain finally under control and her remarkable indomitable character back on display, has been a good one.