My Mum passed away at home on 26th May 2015. She had a peaceful passing, my brother and I by her side. I held her hand for the last few hours until she drifted away. It was just as she wanted; to be at home, both of us with her. A few minutes before she passed she opened her eyes, looked up towards the ceiling and smiled. She saw something beautiful. It was written in her eyes and her smile.
Mum had been ill since February with pancreatic cancer. I’d traveled from Inverness to South Wales several times over a three month period to spend most of my time there caring for her, with short breaks back home in Inverness in-between to recharge. Each time I saw Mum, another piece of her strength had faded away. I learned so much through the whole experience… about courage, unconditional love, vulnerability and trust.
It was a sad and special time, both simultaneously. It’s difficult to explain. Mum and I became so close during this time. We had always been exceptionally close, but through the vulnerability of her illness, I stepped into a very protective role with her. She and I were like two peas in a pod throughout life. We had a similar personality, the same outlook on life, and we ‘got’ one another effortlessly. I always maintained that she was a much nicer version of me though, simply because she was.
Mum knew she was dying, and she spoke openly about it with Rob, my wonderful younger brother, and me. She felt comfortable speaking with us about it. She said that she imagined death to be flying away like a bird, through an open window, with a sense of the purest peace and freedom.
Mum had truly mastered the art of inner peace. She was a wise soul… a very wise soul.
From an early age I had always dreaded the time my Mum would pass away, because the thought of losing her friendship and our close bond was too awful to contemplate. But when the time came, I had to accept what I could clearly see, and give Mum the space and freedom to talk about what she was facing, without doing her the dishonour of washing over it with a positive spin. She needed to talk. She needed us to hear her. I’m not sure how, but I managed it without losing my strength. I had to learn to become okay with letting Mum go, and remain strong for her so that she had someone to lean on during that time. I was facing one of my worst fears – losing the one woman I had consistently turned to and trusted as a friend throughout my life. My own process of acceptance was something I had to do for her. Otherwise I was making this transition in her life all about me, when it wasn’t. Our roles had almost reversed, from her nurturing and remaining strong for me as a child, to me doing the same for her throughout her illness.
I guess we helped each other through the process of learning how. It was the first time for both of us after all. For her, it was learning how to die, and for me, it was learning how to be there for her while she did.
By the time Mum reached the last few months of her life, she was eating so little and had lost so much weight. Yet she found the strength in her frail little body to deal with everything this dreadful illness was pushing onto her, and I found the strength to be her protector throughout. My brother found the same strength, and was such a source of inspiration and courage to both Mum and me during that time. I don’t think he even knows he was doing it, but such is the nature of my brother. He is one of life’s beautiful souls. Gentle, quiet, strong.
Mum and Dad raised five children. Based in South Africa, they decided to travel around Europe in a caravan for several months with four children in tow so we could see the world. My younger brother hadn’t been born at the time, and I was almost 4 years old. That took a great deal of courage, and to this day I don’t know how six people coped in that mobile home for as many months as they did. They had the time of their lives before returning home to base.
When I was nine, my parents left South Africa and moved to Southern Ireland to make a new life for us all. Then in my teens, they moved on to South Wales. Never once, in all those years and through those moves, did I see my Mum fearful or complaining. With the most amazing femininity, she achieved everything she set out to do. In Wales she joined the Writers’ Circle and also created a Book Club which grew through the years and still remains strong to this day.
She became a full time carer to my Dad for ten years when glaucoma left him with only a little vision in one eye. She was also carer to my younger brother who’d had cancer and needed to undergo surgery and chemotherapy. During those years, she had cancer twice herself, and underwent major surgery. She was determined to survive so she could continue caring for both of them, and survive she did. Through all of that, she wrote three books and never once complained that life was tough. Not once.
Mum had always been a writer. She’d actually written dozens of books, the manuscripts for which are all boxed at home. We didn’t even know she’d written this much until her later years when she began to sort through everything so she could leave it all in good order for us. She had countless articles published in magazines, yet she rarely spoke about herself. She was one of life’s givers, always putting others’ needs before her own.
When she was 75 she had her first book published. This was a lifelong ambition for Mum. It was a book for carers on how to maintain a positive attitude and strength. My goodness she knew what she was writing about. She had a further two books published after that, one each year, and all three were for sale on Amazon.
Then she began writing a book called ‘Now that I’m 80’, which is an account of how it feels to be inside the body of an 80 year old. It was still a work in progress when she passed at 82. It’s written in the present moment, and describes how she felt when she looked into the mirror each morning and saw a face she had seen every day and throughout every stage of her life. When she handed me the hand-written manuscript to read, it gave me access into the very essence of her being. Reading that book 18 months before she died brought me closer to Mum than words can explain. She gave me a real insight into how it actually feels to be that age. All through her illness, she said that inside, she still felt like a 17 year old. It does just go to show how beautiful and ever-present the spirit is. There is no age, no time… not to the soul.
I remember so well the year that Mum had entered an international writing competition. There were thousands of entries from all over the world, and she won with a short story called ‘One Voice’. The winner’s entry was performed as a play in a theatre in South Wales, and she was awarded first prize from Sir Anthony Hopkins. Shortly after the performance finished, she was asked on to stage where she received a standing ovation. Afterwards, she had a queue of people asking for her autograph. We had such a wonderful party at home that night, and words can’t express how proud I felt of this magnificent lady. She taught me that anything in life is not only possible, but achievable.
The weekend before she died, we had to make the decision under guidance from her Doctor for her to go back into hospital temporarily. She had become badly dehydrated and needed f