On Thursday, 29th September, my wonderful mum, Mary, passed away. She was 78 years old and had been diagnosed with both lung cancer and glioblastoma 15 months ago. Throughout that remaining time, she displayed her typical resilience in the face of adversity; carrying on with life as normal and living it to the full. Only in the last 3 months did things become difficult. In June, on Father’s Day, her condition worsened suddenly, and after 3 weeks in hospital, she returned home with round the clock care, where, 3 months later, she passed away peacefully with her family beside her.
Seeing her in her own home, unable to look after herself was, perhaps for me, the hardest part of those last weeks. Mum was a very independent woman; strong and determined, and the fact she now had to rely on 24 hour care was as tough as it was necessary.
Over time however, that initial ‘shock’ wore off. Aunts, uncles and cousins popped in regularly, to help or visit, which was itself something mum, I’m sure, delighted in. Having such a large network of support, including that of neighbours and friends, was hugely important for me and my brother too, and the team of carers (including those from Sobell House and Marie Curie) were absolutely wonderful.
Because of the glioblastoma (her lung cancer had also matastasised to the brain), she – in terms of her character – was diminished as the illness progressed, and, just as with someone who has dementia, she had to some extent, already left us before she passed away.
In those last weeks, it became increasingly difficult to remember what mum was like before she was ill and when people are diminished in this way through illness, it’s often a relief when their suffering ends. That doesn’t mean, of course, that one isn’t, at the same time, desperately sad. But that part of one’s grief is, for a short time, suppressed.
In preparing for her funeral however, looking at old photographs and watching videos of her performances on stage in the 1980s and 1990s, that diminished part of her – the mum we knew and loved; strong, fun, charismatic and hugely talented – took centre-stage once again, Suddenly, all memories of mum being so ill in those last weeks were gone.
The mum we had lost had returned and, as a result, that sense of relief began its transformation into grief.
I always loved seeing mum perform, and for a couple of shows, I watched her from the wings, enjoying the buzz and the thrill of the whole performance. But it’s only now, as a 51 year old man, watching her performances as a woman in her early 40s, that I can appreciate just how good she was.
The videos themselves aren’t great quality (recorded from a distance on old VHS camcorders and then left in an attic cupboard for 30 years) but despite this, her talent and her wonderful voice shine through. And so, what I’m left with now, in these first weeks after her death, is, coupled with sadness, an overwhelming feeling of pride.