I have now decided to break my long silence, a long silence over a year which has been one of significant events, lots of patience, a fair bit of pain, and NO SUMMER! The weather is better now than it was in August - bright and sunny and not much colder (except after dark).
When I last wrote, my mother was becoming increasingly frail and we knew she was on the finishing straight, though not how long that would be. Shortly afterwards, she took another turn for the worse and this proved to be the one from which she did not recover: she had fought her last fight and had no strength for this one. Both her regular carers asked for time off at Christmass so she had someone strange looking after her; Fiona asked me to go over so that at least there was one of the family there, but in the event my mother was in sufficient distress that both of us stayed.
I had not seen her for some time and was shocked at her appearance; she looked like one of those bodies you see in pictures of concentration camps - thin, gaunt and skeletal, and by the time I got there on Christmass Eve, at the end of what must have been a tiring day for her, all she could manage by way of greeting was a movement of her hand. When I went in to her on Christmass morning (in scruffy black t-shirt and trousers!), told her it was Christmass day and wished her: "Happy Christmass", there was no response. Whether she ever realised what day it was or who I was I don't know. By Boxing Day, Fiona was worried enough to call the ambulance and the local hospice. The ambulance staff were not best pleased, as we didn't want her taken to hospital, but we did think she might need medical attention and we had been told to call the ambulance. It proved our concern was unfounded; later on a nurse from the hospice came and his kindness was a relief after the rather brusque response of the morning. He said he would arrange for a nurse to come and fit a catheter to make life easier and more comfortable for her.
Meanwhile, Fiona and I kept her company. I eventually left to sit in the sitting room as my back and shoulders were beginning to feel uncomfortable where I was. Shortly afterwards, I saw a head of brown hair in the hall outside. Presuming it was the district nurse, I stayed put; I didn't think my mother would appreciate an audience gawping at the procedure! In fact, unknown to me, Fiona had contacted a friend to pray and the friend had decided to come over. Five minutes later, two distressed woman rushed in to me, one saying; "She's gone!" and the other incomprehensible. It took me a moment or two to realise what they were saying, but there was no doubt: Our mother was no longer with us.
For me, it was a shame I missed the crucial moment. Fiona regrets that, after more than one false alarm, she did not realise this was indeed the end phase; had she realised she would have contacted St Christopher's (Hospice) for care rather than arranging it through an agency. This might have given us time to contact our brother and give him a chance to be there and our mother would certainly have been better cared for and with special kindness as they are the experts in end of life care, which an ordinary agency is not.
It seems fitting that she should have died on the feast of St Stephen, who is associated with King Wenceslas of Poland. She had worked with refugees in Germany in 1945 and had contact both with Polish servicemen (during the war) and Polish refugees (after the war) and WWII (which was the feature of her youth) was triggered by the Nazi invasion of Poland.
This year I will spend Christmass quietly in my own house. Fiona, I hope, will have the family Christmass she was hoping for last year. I won't join them: after several years of having their style a little cramped by an elderly grandmother, they don't need a second installment by a decidedly creaky aunt! I would not be at all surprised if Fiona came for coffee on Boxing Day morning - she might need a moment of quiet among all those boisterous males in her household!
That about wraps it up for now. I realised later that I must have had some nasty virus with that chest infection; this year, although tired, I am not nearly so drained (and I don't think it can all be put down to coping with my mother - a friend said she had had a virus that had knocked her out for the rest of the year, too). I also had a very painful back and neck for several weeks. I don't know what I did, but it was like a stiff neck, plus stiffness in both shoulders, which I just woke up with one morning. The net result was that I asked to defer that year, too (and made sure I got a medical certificate from my GP) so now I am once again second year, with lots of study to do!
Although this was written more than a year ago, I will post it now: for anyone who has missed the letters we usually send at Christmass, it will be an update until I eventually get round to the next one!