I have decided grieving is a lot like running.
First comes the decision to actually go for a run. I believe you actually have to decide to allow yourself to grieve, rather than bottle up the grief, put on a brave face to the world, force yourself to think of all the positives and mask the pain of facing the sadness.
Then you just have to just put on your runners and put one foot in front of the other.. one step at a time. It doesn’t matter how fast you go or how slow. It doesn’t matter if you can’t sprint or if you have to walk.. It doesn’t matter if you have to stop and gulp for breath, bend over double because your heart and lungs hurt. It doesn’t matter if you stop and look up and admire the beauty around you and smile.
Losing Mum has been a stop start grieving process.. or a one step at a time process.
I remember crying on the phone in Asda House on a deserted floor as my sister and I conference called Dr Carpenter and she confirmed that Mum did indeed have Alzheimer’s. It was 2008 and Mum had fobbed off many doctors over several years before that. That was the first stage grief…mixed in with a bit of fear… fear for what was to come, the unknown reactions, duration, impact… I grieved for a future without my Mum as I knew her – the life and soul, the giggling, the fun and glamourous lady.
I remember when I first realised that I probably couldn’t, shouldn’t leave Mum alone to babysit. She was feeding a one year old Tom sat on the kitchen work surface with no support… with knives in reach on the draining board. I grieved for my Mum who wouldn’t be able to be the Granny she wanted to be, playing with her grandchildren, giving them chocolates and taking them out for treats…
I remember the first time I realised she was slowly losing her day to day memory when she asked me if I wanted a cup of tea and I said that would be lovely… and she asked if she should use the hot water tap? I grieved for the loss of my Mum the wonderful cook and homemaker, the one who had always looked after me.
I remember clearly the first time my Mum went missing. I was at a wedding, and during the speeches I had turned off my phone. As they finished, I turned it on to check to see if the boys had gone to bed and I had 40 odd missed calls from both my Dad and Bambi. I remember my heart in my throat… She had gone missing in the car. She had driven to Bicester Village and then couldn’t find the car – the parking attendant had rung Dad… then someone in Birmingham, a complete stranger had Mum and she was lost. Then we didn’t hear anything again until the police had found her and taken her to a police cell… I grieved. I grieved for my Mum who would have been so scared…. I grieved for my Dad as this was the first time of many to come.
I remember clearly the first time my Mum was taken to a mental hospital. I was sat by the pool in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. My sister rang to say she had gone missing and that Dad had found her walking along the M40 and she had refused to get in a car, so he was going at her speed to keep her safe. The police had turned up and Mum started hitting them… I grieved for my Mum, sectioned in a mental hospital. I grieved for the loss of my Mum and her wonderful brain…her sense of reality.
I remember the time last year when we Facetimed Granny and Grandad on a Sunday and Mum asked ‘who are the blond twins with you?’…. I remember choking back tears at the time to make light of it, telling the boys to go and play football. I remember crying afterwards, grieving again for the loss for my sons who would never know the wonderful Granny she could have been, wanted to have been.
I remember being at home last summer, and asking to help Mum prepare supper… the pan on the hob was burning hot and she had put frozen peas in a pan with no water. ‘GET OUT OF MY F**KING KITCHEN! WHO ARE YOU ANYWAY?’…. I remember sitting shocked in the conservatory. I grieved for the loss of my Mum.
I remember the day in August last year that Dad gave us his diary and account of all of Mum’s behaviour for the preceding two years. I remember crying on the phone with my sister as we read about how many times she had hit Dad, walked off, gotten lost, left the hob on… come at him with a knife. I grieved for my Dad and his safety… I grieved for Mum and her safety. I grieved for the end of my Mum and Dad living together.
I remember preparing Mum to go in to a Care Home, distracting her by walking her around her beloved garden while Bambi and Dad packed a suitcase, lying to her saying that Dad needed to go to hospital as he was feeling very tired. I grieved as we said goodbye to her for the first time, knowing this was the beginning of the end.
I remember when the home rang us to say they couldn’t look after Mum any more, her frustration, anger, aggression impacting the safety of staff, patients and even visitors.. My heart in my mouth when they said an ambulance was taking her to the mental hospital under the mental health act section 2 which meant she would be in hospital for some considerable time. I grieved for my Mum who would hate to know this is what she was like…
I remember my shock each time I went to visit her in the hospital or in the lovely new home. I grieved each time I saw my Mum for each time she was slipping away, through drugs, Alzheimer’s or maybe even something on her pituitary gland.
I remember my panic when I got the message from Bambi last Thursday to say that the doctor had confirmed an ‘end of life situation’ and that they couldn’t give Mum any food or water given her chest infection, suspected pneumonia causing her throat to close up. I grieved for the future I thought I was going have, regular visits to see my Mum and hold her hand, even if she didn’t recognise me. I grieved for the fact that a projected 2 years of my Mum in a home had reduced to certain death within 2 weeks.
In the last week, I hardened myself to grief. I held myself together. I was strong for my Mum, for my Dad, Bambi, for myself. I numbed myself to the horror of Mum slipping away, slowly, daily…
In the last day, I hardened myself to grief.
I numbed myself against the horror of seeing my Mum’s dead body. I just saw. I didn’t feel. I numbed myself against the horror of seeing the undertakers gently, oh so gently put pyjamas on her, synchronised with each leg of the trousers, synchronised as they lifted her tiny, rigor-stiff body on to the gurney. I numbed myself as they wrapped her in a sheet and lay a velvet, tasselled cover over her. I numbed myself as they wheeled her out of room 40, down the corridor and into a dark van.
I numbed myself speaking to the funeral director and to the vicar. Answered questions. Made decisions.
I numbed myself when I got home to get through the actions of being a Mummy myself and looking after my poorly boys.
But today I went for a run. I made the decision to get fresh air…. To get the blood moving again.
And today, I am going to ‘un-numb’ myself… I am going to live, and feel, and cry, shout and laugh…
Today Mum would have been 75. I am going to make her a cake and light candles…
And I laughed when Willy asked ‘and how will we get her cake to heaven for her?’
One step at a time.