Yesterday we sat in mum’s room (as I now think of it) and tried to create some kind of normal around her.
My husband, daughter and I played Upwords (a kind of building scrabble) next to her bed. Its a game mum normally invariably wins: partly by playing very unlikely words! This involves much secretive searching on the iPad (not allowed) and claims by mum that (for example) she always knew that ‘tayra’ was a small South American weasel-like carnivore. In her honour we end up cheating too, swapping letters, helping each other, ignoring unlikely words made by adjusting two crossing sets of letters.
Mum appeared to sleep through it all unless I directly got up and talked to her when she agreed to water and orange juice ‘that would be lovely’. This a mostly what she says now apart from ‘my pet’ ‘I love you’ ‘Thank you’ and (heart wrenchingly) ‘sorry’.
I then ask her if she wants a fire and my daughter and I enter into a discussion about if it will affect her breathing, This is interrupted by a clear utterance from mum ‘light the fire and open the window’. So I do. To my horror, though, it seems to take an age to catch properly. Instead sending thick smoke creeping out of the fire place. I feel mums disapproval at my incompetent fire making. She is a notorious pyromaniac. Eventually the smoke subsides, gold and amber flames crackle in the fireplace. She says nothing but her face relaxes and breathing returns to its regular rhythm. Which I take as approval.
Someone is constantly sitting with her now.
My youngest niece and I decide to put the TV on and watch it companionably beside her. This is far more difficult than it should be involving finding remotes, repeated almost random button pressing. Finally we have the Great British Bake off playing. They are making a cottage loaf. Which looks deceptively simple but many of the contestants struggle with it. I am reminded of my mums ‘healthy’ wholemeal loaves. To tease her we used to call them bricks, because they never seemed to rise and instead formed solid brick size lumps. Though, straight out of the oven with butter melting over their seedy interior they still tasted delicious.
As the day goes on. Mum responds less and less. Drinking becomes harder. She goes from lifting the glass and tipping it herself, to drinking through a straw, to sucking it off the pink lolly sponges we use to moisten her mouth. She lies propped up at an angle cuddled by the large supportive pillow that goes behind her head and comes down to her waist on either side. Head back mouth open she breathes evenly. She is confortable and in no pain as she wanted.
But almost before our eyes she is slipping away.
My neices, my daughter and I chat and laugh at photo albums including her in our conversation but she only really responds with a raised eyebrow and occasional almost inaudible (but still orientated) comments. We have to lean in closer and closer to hear her.
We switch to reading her, her old diaries. Something she has been doing with my dad. The detailed account of us sailing on the Norfolk broads when I was a teenager brings back memories I had forgetten. It was an eventful trip with boats capsizing and me – horror of horrors- shutting the only set of car keys in the boot. Described by mum in her diary as ‘BIGGEST BODGE EVER’. Reading this gets a wry smile.
As time goes on it gets harder and harder to pretend anything about this is normal. Mum is stiller and stiller, Mostly seemingly asleep. We end up in a circle around her with people taking turns to tell her they love her and what she means to them.
My son heads off to play her song and record it onto his iphone so she can hear it. When this is played by her ear she has a huge reaction smiling and saying ‘lovely.’ But then she lapses back into silence. I sit and hold her hand it’s still warm. A good sign.
Well – a good sign – if we want her to live longer. Looking at her at 9.30 pm surrounded by all her grandchildren and family lying in the bed so peaceful, I’m not sure that I do. This would be a good time to come to the end of the line.
But death has its own timetable. The Marie Currie nurse, who comes to sit with her over night, never comes tapping at my bedroom door. In the morning she is still here. But now her hands are cold and clammy. Her arms are stiff to move. When she opens her mouth sounds not words come out. I think ‘its time mum, you can go’.
Her eyes shut but her breathing continues slow and steady she looks comfortable, which was what she requested.
We do – all we can do – wait.