The last word

Not to my mother's teaste!
Not to my mother’s taste!

At the beginning of last year, I was shocked at how much my mother had deteriorated. She no longer walked and now spent her days either in her hospital provided bed or in a wheelchair. Alzheimer’s doesn’t kill you but over time the body shuts down and your immune system becomes severely compromised. To be honest none of us thought she’d see the year out. In May she was very weak and dehydrated and we all feared the worse. But she rallied.

My father had long since used the services of a private nursing agency to help get my mother up and ready in the morning and put her to bed in the evening. She’d become so frail and her skin was like paper so that she bruised easily and was prone to bed sores. Nonetheless, it took two people to deal with her and she had a devoted team of six looking after her on a regular basis.

Her condition was monitored regularly by the local health authority, who finally agreed to contribute to the sizeable cost of caring for my mother at home and afford my Dad a bit of respite. This was cheaper for them and assured my mother of round-the-clock care she was unlikely to receive in any institution. In any event, my Dad’s old school, he promised “in sickness and in health” and he’s a man who keeps his promises. He has always been endlessly patient with her, even before the illness took hold.

From time to time, there was the odd glimmer of the woman she once was. But most of the time it was just her fiercely bright blue bewildered eyes gazing out at you from a prematurely aged and shrunken face. I last saw her in early October and she seemed in surprisingly good spirits, a condition which persisted in the run up to Xmas. She was irritable over Xmas and we thought it might be as a result of slight changes in her routine and having more visitors in the house than usual.

After Xmas she stopped eating and drinking, something she’s done before but never for an extended period. She also seemed to be suffering from a heavy cold. A childhood bout of pneumonia had left her with a heart murmur and a shadow on one of her lungs so she’d always easily succumbed to coughs and colds, particularly in the winter. She was listless and rather than leave her in her wheelchair, the nursing staff decided to let her stay propped up in bed where she seemed to drift in and out of consciousness. My father rarely left her side, nor did my middle sister and brother-in-law who live nearby. As her condition deteriorated, the doctor was summoned.

He advised that she had pneumonia and it was only a matter of days before she simply breathed her last. He assured everyone that she was in no pain and she was made as comfortable as possible. My younger sister and her husband arrived to lend moral and physical support. Everyone took turns keeping my mother company. My father held her hand and I said I was sure she knew he was there.

My mother was finally at peace in the early hours of Monday morning. Mid-morning I got a text message to ring home. I knew even before I rang what they were going to tell me. Yes, it’s sad. But it’s sad that her last years on this earth were spent in some sort of living hell and frankly I can’t be sad that she’s been released from her torment.

When someone dies there’s a huge amount of administrative stuff to be dealt with. A bit of a blessing as it keeps the mind active and prevents it from dwelling too closely on exactly what’s just happened. My brother-in-law, who’s experienced at dealing with such matters, has taken charge and my two sisters are ensuring that my Dad isn’t on his own. For almost sixty years, his life has revolved around caring for my mother in one form or other. It’s no exaggeration to say that he’ll be lost without her.

Arrangements for the funeral are already well in hand. Funerals are by their very nature sad occasions but, when you’ve reached a ripe old age, they should be a celebration of the good times and happy memories. My mother had plenty of both. My middle sister, the Pam Ayres of the family, is penning a poem to be read out at her funeral. I’ve offered to read it because neither of my two sisters feel able to do so. Of course, if I feel myself welling up, my beloved will have to take over, though I’m hoping it won’t come to that and I’ll be able to do justice to my sister’s opus.

To give her some food for thought, my sister has asked me to jot down everything I can remember about my mother because 1) as the eldest I’ve been around a bit longer 2) I had a good relationship with my mother and spent plenty of time with her prior to her illness and 3) I have the memory of an elephant. When I started to compile the list, I realised just how far back I could remember and just how much. Plenty of fodder there, much of it very amusing!

At the cycle club Galette des Rois last night, one or two members who also have relatives suffering from Alzheimer’s  – some of whom had met my mother – kindly asked after her. When I replied that she’d died the previous day, they looked mortified. I said they shouldn’t apologise as they weren’t to know and my mother was finally at peace.

I had been surprised that she’d managed to see out the year but I like to think she did so in order prove us wrong and have the last word. She so loved having the last word!

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