Todo sobre mi madre

August 4, 2014 in Thoughts

Three unwritten poems which explain my year

Readers of the blog will know that this is my first post since April.  You may not know why though.  In this post, I will try to explain my life in 2014, via the medium of yet-to-be-created poems.  Hopefully, that’ll make sense by the end of the post.

Mum-youngMy mother, Mary, became sick, quite suddenly in late January.  She was returning from Galway, where she had just spent the night accompanying an old friend who was herself very sick.  Sick enough that she needed constant company.  Mum’s friend was keen on her husband getting at least one night a week off, so she sent the word around her circle of friends seeking volunteers to spend the night with her in Galway.  A rota was compiled, with my mother putting herself down for one night each month.

On the street in Ballyhaunis, just as she was about to get into my aunt’s car, she got sick.  10 days of varying degrees of pain, sickness and uncertainty followed before she was finally sent to hospital.  It turned out she was admitted just in time, as the cause was found to be a tumour in her bowel.  It had grown to such a size that it basically blocked and caused her intestine to become ‘perforated’. I’ll let you figure out the implications of that.

She was rushed in to emergency surgery and the tumour was removed. Telling us about it the next day, the surgeon who operated on her expressed the opinion that she wouldn’t have lived another 24 hours if she hadn’t been admitted to hospital.  Things were touch-and-go for the next 48 hours while she was kept in an induced coma.  All I wanted to do at that point was simply talk to her again.

Poem One: Better Today

I got my wish.  She woke from her coma and, over the course of three days, returned to normal, mentally if not physically. So this poem will begin optimistically.

We (by which I mean myself, my wife, brother, sister-in-law, dad, aunts) became daily visitors to the intensive care unit, where she remained for the next 18 days, and to the regular ward which became her home afterwards.

Whoever visited on a given day felt bound to ring or text out news to the other members of the family circle. Some would ring around, having in-depth chats with each on the minor or major changes they’d seen (or perhaps not seen) in her that day.

One particular aunt though managed to sum it all up in the shortest possible text message: “Better today”.

Just 11 letters but 11 letters that not only reported on mum’s condition but also summed up how normalised our visits to hospital had become. 11 letters that said “She’s improved slightly since yesterday… And ye all know how she was yesterday and the day before and the day before that…”

Personally, I always viewed her condition through an optimistic prism. I never doubted she’d get better, writing off any setbacks as minor bumps on an inevitable road to recovery.

Early on in her stay, while she was still in the ICU, mum was visited by her oncologist.  “The tumour might be out,” he told her “but you’re still a cancer patient.”

There was a problem though.

“Following that surgery, you’re simply too weak to begin treatment. We need you to regain your strength and then we can begin.”

After outlining the plan her future treatment would follow, he finished up his short visit by saying: “I’ll see you again in a week or two… then we’ll begin.”

She never did see him again.

The poem, like her recovery, will feature ups and downs, highs and lows. As I said above, it took her a long time to leave the ICU. Once she had though, she did improve, eventually being able to get out of bed, go for a walk and even, on one occasion, share a cup of tea with dad in the hospital restaurant.

However, the operation left her with fluid on the lung and she never could rid herself of it. It started to become debilitating and, after getting used to seeing her up and walking, we then had to come to terms with her being bedridden once more and having her breathing assisted via an oxygen pump.

Overnight on Tuesday, April 15th, her lungs collapsed which in turn led to cardiac arrest. She was successfully resuscitated but never regained consciousness. Once again, my only wish was to be able to talk with her.

After carrying out thorough tests (which were now easier to perform due to her once again being in a coma) the doctors reported to us the devastating news that there were tumours on several of her organs including the liver and her lungs. I was not to get my wish. Mum passed away just after 2pm three days later, on Friday the 18th.


Poem two: The Future Lost

The Future Lost begins at my mother’s deathbed where you’d expect that I would be crying. Strangely though (I admit) I did not.

Throughout the previous 10 weeks, despite all we’d been through, I didn’t cry. When my father told me about her organ failure on that final Wednesday morning, I didn’t cry. When the doctor told us about the tumours riddling her body, I didn’t cry.

On Wednesday afternoon though, it finally happened. I was sitting with Evelyn, my wife, and Michael, my father, in the hospital coffee shop. Dad spoke of our six-year-old daughter Hazel and how proud mum had been of her. He spoke about the sadness within him over the fact that Mum would never get to see Hazel grow up, graduate, get married etc.  That set me off. For only the third time in my adult life, I bawled.

Humorous aside: I don’t think Evelyn knew what to do with me.

My mother and my daughter had a great relationship. Hazel called mum ‘Nana’. Mum called Hazel ‘The Little Madam’.  When Hazel started primary school last September her two grannies often collected her from school. Mum’s routine on her days minding the Little Madam was to let Hazel help with her baking and, way cooler for our girl, to paint Hazel’s fingernails.

It was the thought of this future, in which scenes like that happened on a weekly basis, being snuffed out that reduced me to a crying wreck. Throughout the next week, I felt most emotional whenever the thought of mum and Hazel together crossed my mind.  I felt sorry for myself, of course, and for my dad but I mainly felt sorry for mum and Hazel and their lost future.

This poem won’t just be about Hazel though.

Dad too has had to face up to his own lost future.  They – she really – built an extension onto their house in 2007, the year Ev and I got married.  It features a new kitchen and two extra bedrooms. It was surely meant for the use of visiting grandchildren but also for themselves, when they were a bit older and perhaps not up to using the stairs.

Now he’s left on his own in this large house without her. In her house really, for she decorated it, furnished it, stocked it with pots, pans, crockery, cutlery, paintings and photographs. Every wall, sideboard and shelf now acts as a shrine to her memory.

And he has to live there, alone in his new future.

Poem three: The Field

Mum’s funeral took place over Easter. It was a three-day event. Her body returned home on Saturday, reposed there on Sunday before being brought to the local church on Easter Monday.

A couple of hundred people called to the family home over those 72 hours. Her body was laid out in the 2007 extension, fittingly enough. Sympathisers could enter through the extension’s door and then exit through the original part of the house.

We were further aided in our attempts to make it as painless an experience as possible by the fact that there’s a large (now eponymous) field beside the house, which could be used as a car park.

It was mid-April so there was a bit of growth in the grass. Obviously, every car that drove in, and every passenger who then walked from said car to the house, tramped down this grass.  By Tuesday, when my father once again closed the galvanised gate, the field was almost completely flat.

Fast forward two weeks though and the grass made its inexorable comeback. By the time of the Month’s Mind you had to look hard to see a trace of the funeral traffic.

This struck me as a sad but accurate analogy for how our own lives will change. The tracks she made in our daily existence will fade and fade. We’ll always have our memories, of course, but the everyday decisions she made and the habits she had will stop being part of our world.

It hasn’t happened yet. A case in point: my brother and his wife are still receiving the monthly copy of National Geographic that she subscribed them to as a gift last Christmas.

It will happen. It is inevitable. The certainty of it saddens me but this is the track which we all must walk.

Unfortunately, I am no poet. I don’t even like poetry for the most part. So having these thoughts and recognising that these emotions might provide the basis for three poems doesn’t mean that the poems will write themselves. As you all know, I work better when the questions have definitive answers.

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