It was one of those surreal moments, where I felt physically in the room but my mind and spirit were somewhere else. Warm and familiar bodies crowded around the bed, while the frail figure laying in it slept peacefully, barely breathing. If my emotions at that point were a colour, they would have been a bleak grey. Everything felt vague and unclear, almost as though trying to think ahead was too painful and so my mind clouded those painful thoughts. My body moved as though it did not belong to me, simply going with the flow of motion with everybody else around me, feet moving one foot in front of the other as though I had instructed it to, but my mind had not. Autopilot had taken over, and I felt numb.
We gathered around her and waited, knowing no words or actions could reverse this. We took it in turns to say goodbye, each sibling stepping forward to whisper last words and kiss her cheek. I felt apprehensive, as though this last kiss was giving her permission to leave us but she did not have mine; I did not want to give her permission to die. I knew she was tired and had been fighting the tempting lure of everlasting sleep for what seemed like eternity. She was exhausted and desperately needed to rest, but I was frightened she might not wake up from her slumber; we would not get to say “Good Morning” again.
I had been with her at the start, at the point where she received the verdict. It was a shock to the system. Unexpected delivery of her diagnosis had caused her to break down in tears and mumble “What about you kids?” between sobs. I felt oddly calm, smiling somehow at the doctor as my mum, overcome with distraught, crumbled next to me. I could not fathom a life without her.
Our relationship had not always been great; our personalities often clashed and we argued like most families. I was eighteen and determined to assert myself and be independent; she was determined to love and protect me because she was my mum. We had been back in Birmingham for eighteen months and we were all struggling to adapt to a strange city that we were to call home. My brother had gone off the rails with drugs and bad company, my middle sister took on the role of mum’s carer, bullies victimised my youngest sister at school and I felt helpless to it all. I found a focus in fulltime work and new friends, but keeping up appearances became a difficult task once mum’s health began to deteriorate.
Ten months later and the hospice had become a second home. Her belongings were scattered around the room, along with beautiful flowers and carefully placed cards with thoughtful messages from well-wishers. Two nights prior to the scene before me, she had been awake and alert. Now she laid still, small and petite, colour drained out of her cheeks leaving her grey, the same grey I was feeling. I was not ready to say goodbye, but I leant over and kissed her cheek anyway. I whispered in her ear, hoping she could still hear me, as though she was still just resting instead of dying, and said “its okay, Mum. We are okay. I love you, Mum.” However, it was not okay, we were not okay.
We said goodbye, one by one, the family whispered last words and messages, all knowing she would not be able to open her eyes, grunt or acknowledge our presence in any kind of way. We waited; her breathing was barely audible in the silent room and so we watched as her small frame rose and fell with each tired breath. She was tired and so was we; tired of the vile illness that had swooped in unexpectedly and made a strong-willed woman weak. Those last few weeks had seen the deterioration of the woman who had raised us, kept us safe and loved us unconditionally, taught us about the world and was meant to see us grow safely into adulthood. I wanted so desperately to be independent, but on reflection, I know I was not ready, not really. I yearned to grow and prosper in the world but I needed my mum to guide me.
I looked away for a second, just a second, and when I looked back, everything had changed. Her small, frail body lay still, looking miniature in such an ordinary bed. She looked as though she was sleeping peacefully and enjoying the sweetest of dreams. Only, she was not sleeping. Her chest was not moving. There was no inhale or exhale, just stillness. For a moment, I felt empty and lost, as the room spun around me, sounds of cries and raw emotion filled the air like a thick red and amber light urging the world to stop. What imprints on my memory is my middle sister sat next to her, holding her hand and gently shaking it, tears falling down her young face as she begged “Mum. Mum, please wake up. Wake up, Mum. Please.”
It was then that my world crumbled, my heart broke and I grew up.