Teresa is one of my best friends. We have been through many up & downs over the years. This popped into my mailbox at 1.30am this morning…….
Last year Suzie asked me if I would like to tell my story and add to her blog. I said yes but to be honest I wasn’t sure. You see talking about the big C scares me, I’ve lost too many loved ones to this disease but it’s a year later and nearly 4 years since my world stalled but I’ll get to that.
It was 1987 and I was 11 when I first heard the C word, I got called out of class to my dad waiting for me, his eyes red and his voice full of emotion. His big sister, my auntie Molly had passed away. She had cancer of the thyroid. Suddenly i’m 17 and at my big cousin Steven’s funeral, he was 19 and like a brother to me. He’d fought hard for 5 years against bone marrow cancer and never once complained or slowed down. If he wasn’t joking around and throwing his artificial leg out of car windows or into swimming pools, he was raising money for our local hospice or going into the childrens ward to carry on with the kids or running onto the pitch when Kilmarnock got promoted to the premier league. He was an inspiration to me and I miss him every day.
It’s 2013 now and it’s my youngest son Sams baptism. All the family are together, including my sister who I hadn’t seen in over a year. She kept going on about the weight my mum had lost and how amazing she looked. That’s when it first hit me that mum had lost weight, I hadn’t noticed as she always wore baggy cardigans around the house but today she was dressed up and you could clearly see it. I thought she looked great too and told her this, everyone did. It’s Christmas 2013 and my mum has lost more weight. I speak to her quietly and ask her if she’s feeling ok. She says she’s fine, fit as a fiddle but caring for my dad was beginning to take it out her a bit. You see my dad had been ill for a few years, a mini stroke, a heart attack which resulted in a pacemaker being fitted and a leg amputation caused by diabetes, my mum was his primary carer even though she was 9 years older and nearly 80.
It’s January 2014 and mum has lost more weight. This time I don’t take any excuses and tell her to get a doctors appointment and that i’m going with her. We go to the doctors and she tells him about the weight loss and some other things she’d been keeping from me. Night sweats, loss of appetite, fatigue, a feeling like she had indigestion all the time and a pain in her upper back. The doctor reassures her that at her age weight loss is common, the indigestion is a result of her hiatus hernia and taking care of my dad will be making her tired but he will send her for an xray on her lungs. The xray comes back all clear.
It’s April 2014 and mum has lost more weight. To put it into perspective, my mum was a size 18/20, she is now a size 12. Back to the doctors we go. It’s a different doctor this time who tells my mum the exact same as the last doctor but also says her pain will be coming from her spondylitis. I ask him a few questions and basically he tells me that it’s my mums age and her existing medical conditions that are causing her problems along with the pressure of caring for my dad. I feel so guilty, I moved 50 miles away in 2009 and can only get down once or twice a week, it doesn’t seem like enough, I feel like i’m not doing enough to help them. Dad is worried, he tries to hide it but I can see it in his face.
It’s June 2014 and I walk into the my mum and dads bedroom as mum is changing. I’m in complete shock, she’s skin and bones. I insist she goes back to the doctor. She promises me and she sees the new doctor who joined the practice. He’s Irish, like mum, they hit it off straight away. Mum says he was lovely, very handsome and is arranging for her to have an ultrasound of her abdominal area.
It’s Thursday 24th July 2014, mum had her ultrasound 2 days ago. I’m at home and dad calls. The doctor called and said he was coming to see them in the house, there’s panic in his voice, I tell him to calm down, everything will be ok but he’s to call me straight after the doctor leaves. I put the phone down but i’m shaking. A couple of hours later my dad calls back. They’ve found black spots on my mums liver, the doctor is sending her for a ct scan. I speak to my mum, she’s upbeat but there’s panic in her voice too. I’m working through till Monday, I tell her i’ll be down then but i’ll call her tomorrow, as normal, for our daily chat. I put the phone down and burst into tears. Then I start googling and immediately wish I hadn’t, fuck you google, fuck you.
It’s Thursday 31st July and i’m getting ready for work. The phone goes and it’s my dad, he’s in a right state. Then I hear it, it’s mum, she’s screaming in the background. I ask him what’s going on. He says mum is in pain, she can’t get out of bed. I tell him to call the doctor and i’ll be down as soon as I can. I arrive about an hour later, my mum is writhing in pain and the doctor hasn’t called back yet, I call them, i’m told they’re extremely busy, I kinda lose it and tell them i’m calling an ambulance, the doctor is on the phone within minutes. He asks me 1 simple question, “In your opinion, if i came to see your mum, would I call for an ambulance”? “Without a doubt I reply”. He arranges the ambulance. While waiting my dad tells me something him and mum haven’t told anyone. My mum has been taking his morphine tablets for months, he’d got them the previous year when his toes were amputated. The pain had hit her so severely today as they’d ran out. The ambulance arrives and the paramedic asks if i’d noticed my mums eyes were yellow, I hadn’t but do now. Dad and I follow the ambulance in my car.
It’s Tuesday 5th August, Stewart (fiance), myself and our boys are travelling down to Kilmarnock to visit mum who is still in hospital. We’re on the M8 when my dad calls. He asks how long we will be until we’re at the hospital, I ask him what’s wrong, he says we’ll talk when we get down. I tell him I want to know now. Mum has cancer, my worst fears have materialised. I feel like I can’t breathe. Dad doesn’t know all the details, the docs will tell us more when I get there. We’re taken into the family room, just the 3 of us. The doctor tell us the following:
- Mum has pancreatic cancer
- It has spread to her liver, with a few spots in her lungs
- Chemotherapy is not an option
- Radiation therapy is not an option
- Palliative care
- Control her pain
- Make her comfortable
- District nurses
The next week or so go by in a haze. I call everyone. I tell my work I need to take all my holidays. Stewart takes holidays from his work so he can look after our boys. I decorate my mums bedroom. I organise hotel rooms for mums sisters and brother who are coming over from Ireland. I clean, clean, clean. I answer calls and repeat the same information time and time again. I look after dad, I argue with my lazy arse brother, I miss my boys, I miss Stewart, I run my dad everywhere he needs to go, I liaise with doctors and district nurses, I keep busy, I don’t stop……..I can’t stop, I can’t stop.
It’s Thursday 14th August 2014, mum’s home from hospital and she’s yellow,. She has a morphine driver and get’s tired very easily. There’s a steady stream of visitors, I know they mean well but mum is exhausted. Mums sisters and brother arrive from Ireland. They’re all speaking Gaelic, it drove me crazy as a child and it still drives me crazy. My dad and I are sitting trying to figure out who or what they’re talking about, then I hear it, “cremated”. WTF??? I glare at them and ask mum what they’re talking about. Mum say’s she’s told her sisters she doesn’t want buried, she wants cremated. They ask what she want’s done with her ashes, mum isn’t sure but seems okay to be talking about this. I say that we can take them to Ireland and scatter them, dad says we should wait till he joins her and we could scatter or bury them together in Ireland. My mum says “Dick, would you be ok with that”? My dad replies “darling, where you go, I go”.
My sister visited again and spent a couple of days with me, my brother, mum and dad. We all reminisced and mum was so happy to have us all together with her. When my sister was leaving it was heart breaking, they both knew it was probably the last time they would see each other.
Over the next few weeks mum gets more and more confused and sleeps most of the time. She talked about being with her mum and dad and running through the fields. She also reverted to speaking Gaelic, her first language. It was so difficult, I couldn’t understand what she needed, I couldn’t help her. I broke down crying with my head on the bed next to her. She started stroking my hair and said “I’m sorry honey, I love you, I don’t know what your dad and I would do without you”. I told her I loved her too and was there anything she needed, she replied in Gaelic and then got so frustrated with herself, I started crying again and she said “pog mo thoin” and we both started laughing. It means kiss my arse in Gaelic but she knew that I knew the meaning, she was telling me that she was still there. Those were the last words my mum said to me. She slept solid for the next 2 days.
Mum died on Sunday 14th September 2014 at 4:36pm.
My dad and I were by her side holding her hands, my brother stroking her feet. I went straight into keeping busy mode, calling everyone I had to, repeating the news over and over, telling family and friends my mum had died, over and over and over. I organised the funeral director, I sat with dad, I cried with dad, I watched my daddy, my hero, shrink in front of me. I wish I’d watched him closer. I wish I’d noticed his bad cough earlier. I wish I hadn’t been so consumed with my own grief. I wish I hadn’t listened to him “Honey, I don’t know how we’d have coped without you, I love you. Go and see your friend, take a break, God knows you deserve it, I’ll be fine here with your brother and uncle”. I left the house at 9:30pm, I went to my friend house, my brother called me at 10:45pm, my dad had had a heart attack. By the time I got back to the house my cousins were giving him mouth to mouth, then the paramedics arrived and took over. They got his heart beating again and it was like de ja vu as I followed the ambulance to the hospital. I called everyone, repeating over and over that my dad had had a heart attack and was in hospital. We were all in the family room when the doctors came in and asked to speak to me. The doctor tell me the following:
- They told me I could see my dad
- He was breathing on his own but he was still unconscious
- His heart was very weak.
- They asked me if I knew my dads wishes
- They didn’t know why he wasn’t waking up
- They’d checked him for a stroke and everything was clear.
- They asked me to put a DNR on him,which I did
I got looks of horror from my uncle but we’d discussed this at length before, a conversation I didn’t want to have but one my mum and dad made me sit through. I knew my mum and dads wishes and where all their documents were. I left the hospital at 3am to get some sleep. I woke at 7am and called the hospital, there was no change. I went for a shower and then my phone rang around 8:30am. I was advised to get back to the hospital asap. I called my other brother who I don’t really speak to, my dads son. My brother and I went to pick him up and went straight to the hospital.
Dad died on Monday 15th September at 9:06am, 17 hours after the love of his life and wife and partner of 45 years. I didn’t make the hospital on time. A nurse held his hand as he took his final breath, I don’t think I will ever forgive myself for not being with him.
Robot mode, robot mode, robot mode, phone call after phone call after phone call, tell everyone my dad had died over and over and over again. Funeral arrangements, insurance companies, flowers, music, poems………….
Why is everyone going on as normal? Why are the buses still running, why are the shops still open, why, why, why???????
I wanted to scream, I wanted to run away, I wanted to wake up from this nightmare, I wanted Stewart, I wanted my boys, I wanted my mum and dad, I wanted everything back the way it was but most of all I wanted to make them proud.
One of the hardest things was trying to explain to my 4 year old Ben that his beloved gran and papa had went to heaven and him asking when he can go visit them. My heart broke again, if that was even possible.
My parents were cremated together on the 26th September 2014, soulmates till the end. I still have their ashes. I know they wanted them to go to Ireland but I can’t let them go. I think I knew them better than anyone and that they would be happy that i’ve had it written into my will that their ashes will be buried with me when it’s my time to join them.
It almost 4 years since I lost them, the pain is still real but what have the last 4 years taught me?
Grief never ends, it’s a journey, a very personal one that you live every day.
You have to deal with your grief or it will consume you.
Life is precious but fragile.
Love is amazing.
Family and friends are everything.
If you love someone, tell them.
Make memories, take pictures.
Laugh, laugh, laugh.
You are stronger than you know.
Suzie, you are beautiful, courageous, inspirational, selfless, strong and a true friend. I love you and wish you had known my mum and dad, they would have loved you as much as I do.
Dick and Bridget Turnbull, my heart aches for you both. I love you and thank you for being my amazing, crazy parents. I’ll see you in my dreams.
Love from your baby girl, Teresa xxx