Remembering Today…

Two years ago today it was a Sunday and I had arrived in England to ostensibly take care of my mother once she was released from hospital.

I spent the first three days and nights next to her bed in Ash Ward in Lewisham hospital.

On Saturday evening, in return for looking after his two young boys, my brother took the night shift to allow me a brief time lying down in a bed at the flat.

I returned to my vigil the following morning after early mass at the parish Church in Beckenham and saw her through her final hours.

This is my journal for that day:

June 12th 1150am

I’m back and although Mum’s breathing is regular it is much laboured.  They’ve moved her catheter bag to the side I usually sit on so I’ve moved over.

I leaned down and whispered in her ear,

“I’m back, I’ve been to mass and prayed for you.”

She loved it when I told her I’d prayed for her, she always smiled and nodded.  Not today though, perhaps inside.

“It’s Pentecost Sunday, come Holy Ghost and all that.”  I smiled at the memory of the old hymn.

I wonder if she’s scared?  About 3 seconds between breaths.  My brother described her as shrinking.

I asked the nurse about the catheter bag.  It has been bothering me since I’ve been here but I don’t want to move it and risk inadvertently hurting her.  She moved it to inside the bed.  Much better.

I can sit in my usual spot by her head, facing out at the view of the park and the trees and the gloomy skies.  I can write and wait.

Orange is expensive, I checked, I sent a text to Daughts in Paris and it cost 20p.  I turned my phone off.  Then I called hubs on the bus and checked my balance and it had gone down almost 50p. Ridiculous, we must investigate a phone plan.

I talked to Mum again,

“Are you frightened?”  I asked.  I didn’t get an answer, I wasn’t expecting one.

“Jesus is waiting for you,” I was beginning to sound like one of those evangelists.  I had run out of things to do, sitting keeping watch, stops the passage of time.

“I’ll be with you.”  I take her hand and put it under the covers to warm up.

I hope she goes gently.  I’ve never watched someone die before.

“Daddy will be there and your sweet Mum,” she always called her, ‘my sweet Mum.’

I couldn’t think of anyone else.  Now I think, her father of course and all her brothers and Jacob and Jane.

I missed the morning chat as everyone gets up in the ward, too busy enjoying breakfast with my  nephews.  It’s lunchtime now and a tech has come in to take blood from Mary.  There are signs posted at the desk and in the ward that say,

“Mealtimes are preserved!”

Ha ha, that happened before with Edna, while she was eating she was whisked off for an X-ray!


Now 4 seconds between breaths.


I am holding her right hand, it is very cold even under the covers.  Her breathing is not noisy as it was all yesterday, the injection helped.

Esther, in the next bed, is still concerned about being able to go home tomorrow.  She’s telling the afternoon shift of nurses.  They agree,

“That’s the plan!”

This whole stay has amazed me how desperate these ladies are to get home.

I hope Mummy is desperate to get home too.  She has no idea of time.  I told hubs I am learning how to be old from these people.  How to accept help.  All three of them are quite with it, they know their days and their medications.  The thing that causes all of them confusion is the reason they are still here.  They need an advocate who can help them remember what doctors and nurses and physios have said.  I’ve heard a lot.  The nurses are very kind, treat them with respect and dignity and at times like children.  And they are like children a little.  Accepting care, acknowledging that they need help.  This is an important place to reach.


Daughts texted, she’s on her way home.  Larry is going bowling with my brother and the boys, then to IKEA for a meal!

Flatulence abounds in this ward, it’s funny.  And the nurses and doctors ask about urine amounts and bowel openings.  At the moment all is quiet.

Edna is getting a drip for her diuretic, it was ordered on Friday.  She had tablets first, now she has the drip in the morning and again at 1pm.

Ma has her eyes half open, breathing is still the same, every 3 seconds again.

Edna sold her car earlier this year, she decided her one leg could not move fast enough in an emergency.  She drove a 2009 “something” a manual.  The nurse commented,

“You should get an automatic.”

These are the names of the ladies in the ward:

Kay, Mummy (a bed with a view), Esther (no view because the curtains are closed around Mummy’s bed but I discovered she was blind anyway).

Mary (opposite us also a bed with a view), Edna and then the bathroom which I am not allowed to use.

A little black nurse came in and checked to see if Mum was clean, suddenly she seemed to get upset,

“She seems comfortable,” she said and left abruptly, peeling off her gloves.  Other nurses have intimated to each other that they get too close to their patients and they grow very sad.

Mum had a wonderful life except for the last five years.  Even then she and daddy managed reasonably well.  But five years is a long time and Mum has only those difficult recent memories if she can recall them at all.  Having to look after Dad, cleaning up, shopping, cooking, walking the dog.  Then when he left for hospital and a home, the visiting.  As things got worse and Daddy died denial set in and she dwelled in the clouds, or in her own world.  I think I could have made her life better, but I wasn’t here.

My brother told me the oncologist said my coming was fortuitous.  Was it?

I can hear her breathing now, regular and hard.  I am trying to breath with her, it no longer seems to be shallow.


Mr Plummy, my nick-name for a wandering patient from the men’s ward down the hall, has just walked in,

“Go away, this is a ladies’ ward.  Skiddaddle!”  Mary shouted.

“I couldn’t turn around fast enough!” he responded, “I’m just looking for a warm room.”  He left.  Good for you Mary!

Ma gripped my hand and her eyes opened wide and she looked at me, I squeezed her hand and told her,

“I’m here, it’s all right.”

She’s calm again.  Her breathing is shallow, I am synching it with mine again but had to stop and concentrate on my natural breathing.  I cannot breathe that fast, mine is slow and deep.  I have indigestion.  Yuk and ouch!


The “hot drink” trolley has just come through.  The orderly has zero personality.  I can hear the front desk phone being ignored just as it was ignored for me when I tried calling from America!  Then when a nurse did pick up she asked me,

“How can you be next of kin you’re living in America?”

Ma takes the odd deep breath as if it could be her last.  This is such a solitary process.  I am here holding her soft and cool hand but she is the one doing the dying while I watch.  Daddy never let her experience anything distasteful if he could prevent it.  He would have hated this for her.  I am exhausted sitting here, a passive observer.  I wonder what she’s thinking?  Her eyelids just fluttered which caused the thought.

She’s been in here 11 weeks.  Since I admitted her in March.  I suppose a feeding tube earlier on would have only have extended this.  Her prognosis of hours is stretching into days.

She gave me life.  Do I remember holding her hand as a child?  Was she there when I needed her?  Why did she let me go away to school so easily?  She really wasn’t herself after daddy’s funeral.  And yet she thought of him as still alive…my brother…so I wonder how she thought of herself and who I was?  Confusion is a curious maze not to be understood by those on the outside.


Mr Plummy, John, came wandering down again.  The male nurse asked him what he wanted,

“I’m looking for some cornflakes.”

“You’re having dinner in an hour, let’s change your trousers.  Go down and sit in your chair and I’ll get you some new trousers.”

“All right,” says John in his Sergeant Major voice.

“Are you really hungry?” asks the male nurse, “shall I get you some biscuits?”

“No no!”

“John, would you like some cornflakes?”

“Yes, very much.”

“Go back to your place and I’ll change your trousers while this lovely lady gets you some cornflakes.”  I heard him slipper-shuffling back off down the hall

A chaplain popped in on Mum and me for a quick moment.  He said he’d met Vincent but when final rites were done he wasn’t here.  He told me Ma had had communion each week and was all right in that respect.  I told him I knew that and had told her she was okay to go.  He said,

“She’s probably listening to you more than to me.”

“She’s hanging on,” I said as he turned to leave.

“That era do,” and he was off.  He didn’t stay more than two minutes.


Hubs is here, he went to get coffee and brought it up.  Ma has her eyes open.

My brother had said,

“Oh she’s awake!”  But of course she isn’t.  She’s not focusing.

Then he left to take his sons home.

I have been holding Mummy’s cold right hand, it is so soft and sweet.  Holding or stroking a hand is something done to caress, or calm, or show love, it is quite an intimate act and when I thought about it I got a panic attack.

She is looking absolutely awful, she must be uncomfortable, her breathing changed again, to more of an urgent shallow breath.


Ma’s hands are blue.  Her breathing laboured.  I asked for an injection to stop the noise.

The little black nurse came back in.  Ma had been clenching her teeth and fluttering her eyes.  She seemed distressed.  The nurse got two other nurses to help her and asked me to leave.


When I returned she was gone.

The nurse said, “she is still breathing.”  But no, she’s not.

The nurse lowered the bed and said she needs a doctor to pronounce her death.

“I am not trained to use a stethoscope.  I came in to apologise.”

I didn’t ask for what.  I don’t think I wanted to hear.  She said she’s bleeped the doctor who was on her way.

My earlier fears were realised.

Mummy managed to sneak away when I wasn’t looking as she’s done so many times before in my life.


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