Week Eighteen

Mum's garden was all-important - she spent hours cultivating shrubs and trees by building walls to protect them against the weather.
Mum’s house and gardens with cultivated shrubs and small trees…

It is a real treat to enjoy the garden in hazy Spring sunshine. There are shoots coming through from plants I thought had gone – the Agapanthus, the garden mint and orange lilies. I now have Scarborough Fair – parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme – among Bleeding Hearts, Wallflowers and diverse varieties of tulips and daffodils. The rhubarb and strawberry plants are growing already, and I’ve just put some trailing Fuchsias into baskets. Even the well-pruned apple-tree has green, pink and white buds all over it. I am beginning to breathe again.

The hospital just rang to say I have to take Mum for a pre-operation assessment on Wednesday morning and then in for the operation at 7.30am on Friday.

Debbie has already booked her ticket to come on Monday 14th April, the day after Mum’s birthday. I shall organise a party of Mum’s friends for the following day, so that Debbie can take part. Someone said today that it wasn’t fair that I’ve been left to do all the work for Mum. In a sense that is true, but had it all happened to Mum whilst I was teaching in London, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything for her either. I have had to take a career break, it’s true, but I was in the fortunate position of being able to do so and, as a result, I have got to know and love my mum again. I have been able to care for and tend her in a way not possible before. I consider it now such a privilege and a very special blessing.

***

Getting up at 5.45am didn’t feel like such a special blessing this morning, but it was so beautiful outside – there was a strong, fresh, thin-misty smell and the sun was behind an ivory veil, but very much awake and smiling. The birds were loud and clear and the roads all but empty. Mum was ready when I arrived, so we set off and sailed through a dozy Nottingham and arrived half-an-hour early at the Hospital. As we sat at the Reception desk, a man kissed his wife goodbye, having been told that she could keep her mobile on and phone him when she was ready to go home again. He went slipping out of the Unit, laughing, “I thought I’d have to stay all day in this place!”

I knew they would need me to stay with Mum.

I recognised the place and the ward sister, and I realised that Mum was going into the room next to the one where I had had my ‘Surgical Evacuation’ of the first miscarriage, a couple of weeks before Mum ‘came down for Christmas’. That gave me a strong flash-back, as did all the repeated questioning:-

“Any caps, crowns or loose teeth?”

“Any known allergies?”

“Name and date of birth?”

As I answered the questions for Mum, she had her lines to say too:

“I’m a pest, aren’t I?”

“Will it go away now?”

I told her that I do believe in miracles and that she may well wake up normal again – the Lord does work in mysterious ways and I like to expect the unexpected.

I got Mum into her gown and the stream of form fillers gave way to the porter. I went down with her to the theatre, to answer any remaining questions and go through the consent form again. The doctor let Mum sign her consent, because she seems to understand the explanation as it is given. She squiggled her signature and said

“I hope we get it sorted this time!”

“What do you hope they do, Mammy?”

“I don’t know, whatever it is they’re doing!”

The doctor explained to me that there is a slight risk of the camera puncturing the womb, in which case they would have to look in through the navel, to check it hadn’t punctured other organs as well. This is unlikely, but I then had to give my consent in case of that too. Big responsibility for little me.

There are so many men in this part of the hospital, all hiding in green tunics. They cause Mum to behave in a very animated manner.

“All these young men around”. I commented.

“Not for long though” she sighed.

“No, no staying power, eh?”

Mum laughed. The men found me some fetching shoes, gown and a lovely mop-cap, so that I could go to the anaesthetists’ room and watch her go. It was a very psychedelic room, meant for the kids I think, but I enjoyed it. It wasn’t as bad as watching my little boy go under, but it was still a strange experience.

I hardly got into my book when in half-an-hour I was called back into the recovery room. The nurses there were discussing their bets for the Grand National the following day. I began to think about Dad and the 13 years of Mum’s life since he died… I thought of all of our lives since his death and of that day when Mum phoned to tell me the shocking news. We had friends at our house to watch the Grand National that day. As soon as I got the call, the party was abandoned and baby Josh, his dad and I, set off to Orkney.

When Debbie heard that Dad had died, she went into labour and gave birth to her third child, Olivia…

Back in the ward, we were brought more tea and Mum was amazingly alert. I wanted to sleep, but she was rearing to go.

“Has it worked?” she mumbled to herself under the oxygen mask.

She wasn’t aware of me at her side. She lay quite still, humming and dozing and whispering her thoughts:

“I’ve just realised…I’m not coughing!” she smiled benignly, almost smug. “I can sing again!”

I realised that she thought that this operation was to solve the problem of the residual cough. We ordered some breakfast and she continued with an expansive look of glee and gratitude:

“Yes, it’s better… I can dance and sing again… I can try anyway…Nobody knows though…” she laughed gently and closed her eyes to hum, ‘Walking in the winter wonderland.’

“Nobody knows, but I do…I can do them, I think…I can sing again…but they don’t know…but it doesn’t matter…BUT, will I do it?”

She put her hands together, rapt and whispering her thanksgiving and petitions over again. I joined her in prayer and in thanksgiving that the doctors had found nothing at all wrong with her womb.

The tea is cool enough now, so I take off her oxygen mask and feed her jam on toast and tea. Mum is smiling and dancing a tune to herself. The lady comes back to collect the plates and asks Mum what she has had done.

“Nothing much.” She replies, then coughs.

“It’s come back again” she whispers with an air of desperation, “Oh, no, it hasn’t worked! Please no! What do I do now? Please let it be right… It’s still there, isn’t it?”

I intervened to say that the cough may still be there, but that she was in hospital to check her womb and that the doctors say her womb is fine.

I fed her lunch, saw that she’d been to the loo, dressed her and she was discharged. It would have been very different for her and the doctors if I had not been there today.

***

Only 4 days later, but a lifetime has passed since then. I feel like my head is on fire and like the inside of me is opening up into a giant chasm, that at any moment will have to explode or implode – it cannot keep getting hotter and more vast and intense.

Today is April 8th. It would be Pa’s birthday today. Pa died 2 years ago in February, and I really miss him. Thirteen years ago, on the night of Pa’s birthday, my father died. On Friday night, the day Mum and I were in the hospital for Mum’s operation, Pat also passed away. Isabelle loses her mum on the eve of the Grand National – as I lost my Dad – suddenly and painlessly. I can’t believe she has gone. I was drinking tea with her last Monday morning. Her tummy was recovering from what we thought was a tummy bug. The following day she was taken into hospital and I haven’t seen her again.

Dad, Pa and Pat – all linked in dates as much as in my heart and life. My poor Isabelle, Bruno and Violet – they have lost Grandpa and Gran-Gran in two short years. It’s times like this that the strengths and weaknesses of all the family and friends come to surface. And there’s a flood of memories to enjoy and to deal with through the tears.

I am grateful that I still have my mum. I will take her up to the remembrance garden today and then to Pa’s grave and remember Pa on his birthday and Dad on his anniversary. I’ve told her about Pat, because Mammy was fascinated by her and loved her weekly visits to her, but she has already forgotten who it was.

Mum and Dad’s beach land and boat house

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