My mother and father came to England to visit us for a holiday. Her cancer was in remission, miraculously and it was time to visit the grand children she loved so much. We were all so very excited. I’d planned visits to Santa’s grotto. A Christmas Train ride, visit to a Christmas through the ages exhibit. I bought a huge Christmas tree. We had things planned for every day. Winter Wonderland. Fairytale Wander. A visit to Pooh Corner. So many plans.
I went to the airport to collect my parents, only to find that my mother had been taken directly to A&E, where she would spend the next four days getting scans and tests. Whether it was the flight, or whatever it was, a new tumour had sprung up, a malignant, vicious, angry sucker, growing 21cm in just 3 weeks. It was phenomenal, and once again, there was nothing they could do for her.
The hospital arranged a hospice for my mom in the next town up from ours, but also said she could come home while she was ‘well enough’ to do so. There would be community nurses that would come round daily and check on her, and refill her morphine driver.
I was mainly surprised by the questions from especially people in the healthcare profession. You know your mother could pass at home? Yes. How old are your children? 4 and 1. Are you okay with having them in the house? …
Where else would I have my children?
I stood in the living room speaking to one of the community nurses and pointed to the floor to her right:My daughter was born here. It seems only fitting that life should end here too, I said, pointing to the very same spot, but upstairs.
We are so far removed from death in our culture.
Like birth, it is something that happens somewhere else. It’s something that is cleaned up and swept away. It’s something that’s dealt with by a professional, someone with experience, someone else. Yet another taboo.
When the nurses, who happened to turn up moments before the end to give some top up pain medication, declared that she was, in fact, dead, I sent my husband to the kitchen for the herbal poultice I had made earlier that day, hoping it would have some weeks to steep. My sister and I washed our mother’s body, cleansing it for one last time – oh, she did so love to be clean – before removing her nightie and putting a new one on her. Ritualistic body washing is normal in so many cultures, even deeper cleansing than what we did, but in ours it isn’t. We are missing out. It was beautifully therapeutic, healing, almost.
In the two weeks since, Ameli specifically (at four years old) has been through a series of emotions: she’s had separation anxiety.
She’s cried at random moments, whenever it’s been quiet. She’s role played death and dying and we’ve had to let her get on with that, knowing that she is processing, dealing. We’ve had questions upon questions too – but we’ve answered as far as we could, as much as we can.Being many hours before dawn on Boxing Day, we had a long wait before the doctor could come out, and then later the funeral directors, and my husband was adamant that the children should not see their still and lifeless grandmother.
My mother’s funeral is tomorrow. A simple cremation, because she doesn’t really know people here. I’m looking forward to having a little bit of closure. It will be years yet, I’m sure, if ever, before we really move on, but at least we can have a little closure.
Do I have any regrets about choosing to bring death home? Not one. Beyond the fact that my mother should have lived much longer than her 54 years of life, the fact that she died in my home, in my arms, in the room next to my sleeping children? No, I wouldn’t change a thing.