One more night

With lights out last night I lay in the dark and thought about how things are. It’s a tumultuous time. I move home in about 3 weeks, and am surrounded by boxes that need to be filled. So far I’ve filled five of them – 55 more to go. I’m also meant to be doing a Six Sigma course, which I’ve started, but struggle to do with any continuity with all the other things happening around me. And then there’s the big one, mum. Every day is full of mum, if not in deed, then in thought.

Mum is dying. Soon she will be dead. As it stands it’s unlikely she’ll make it out of hospital. For all the emotional burden that carries there are practical considerations. I’m the go-to man in all of this. I’m the one person in the world mum shares everything with right now. I speak to her maybe 4, 5 times a day. Sometimes she calls me, other times I call her just to see how she is going. I’m the person the doctor speaks to as well. Each day I get a call from her advising me on the latest. I get calls from others, friends and family wanting to know what’s going on and what they can do. I’ve lost count of how many sad conversations I’ve had, occasionally with people crying at the other end. There are things to do and organise. I rang the funeral director the other day to check on that. I speak to palliative care people, had to deal with the prosaic details of a courier delivery, have coordinated some cleaning, whilst asking for this person or that to attend to small tasks along the way. I don’t mind any of this. It has to be done and I’m good at it. There is a lot happening though.

Laying in bed I contemplated the logjam of things with little feeling. I’ll get through it. It’s not such a big deal. Turning on my side my thoughts went more directly to mum. Suddenly I remembered what her death would mean: that I would never see her again. After all these years she would be gone. That for all the long life ahead of me she would be missing from it. It’s shocking to think that someone so present could vanish like that. And very sad. For once I felt some self pity. It was awful, and it is now.

I slept uncomfortably. Sleep was light and restless. My sleeping mind was wracked by persistent and irrational thoughts that seemed real. Slowly I roused from my fugue. My thoughts gathered again, aware of what was happening. In the dark with my eyes closed my thoughts returned to the things that must be done for mum. I wanted a rest from it, but couldn’t seem to let it go. It was useless. I sat up and turned on the lamp beside the bed. It was about 2.40 am.

For 5 minutes perhaps I lay there wondering what I was to do. I was not tired, and did not want to struggle for sleep that wouldn’t come. I thought about getting up – but for what? Rigby watched me curiously from his bed on the floor, surprised at this change in nightly routine. Eventually I picked up a book to read as Rigby circled the bed and then jumped up on it. “You think you’re entitled to lay on the bed if the light is on or if I’m reading don’t you Rigby?” I said aloud. He watched me solemnly as if this time he might actually understand what I said. Then he curled into a ball beside me.

The book I had picked up was stories by Alice Munro. Reading her words settled things down in me. Fifteen minutes later I shewed Rigby from the bed, switched the lamp off and lay down to sleep.

As on previous nights my sleep was full of dreams. The dreams were ridiculous and incongruous and vaguely disturbing, as if written by Dali. Two themes seem to repeat throughout the dreams. In the first instance water seemed to be an ever present element, and not just as something in the background. It meant something, or signified something. The other theme was my clumsiness. In real life I’m clumsy neither in word or action, but in my dreams I became a klutz. It seemed the cause for much inappropriate hilarity from me.

I slipped in and out of dreams, in and out of heavy sleep. In a moment of clarity I realised I would be unsurprised to receive a phone call soon telling me mum had passed away overnight. It was that close I thought, and that’s how it would happen. Outside the garbage truck ground through first gear and whined as it emptied bin after bin. Then I slept again.

I woke later than usual. My body clock is precise. I wake pretty much the same time every day, and can set it to wake me at a particular time. I wake during the night and mostly I know what time it is without needing to look at the clock. Today it slipped though. I woke no more than 30 minutes later than usual, but felt foggy, as if coming off the back of a heavy dose of sleeping pills.

It is day now and I have spoken to mum – she has survived another night. She is unwell, but as I tell people who ask after her, that’s how it is. There are no reassuring words except that it will be over soon, as she desires. For now I go back to my stuff, packing boxes, doing my course, perhaps even doing some work in between, heaven forbid. Much of that has come to a stop. Vaguely ahead I recognise an uncertain future, mum gone, me displaced from this home, and a new environment to come to terms with. Nothing I can do about it.


I just got off the phone with my mum. She’s in hospital. It was an awful conversation. Mum spoke between deep, rasping breaths. She sounds like she’s run a marathon. There’s fear in her voice and a kind of desperate resignation. I listened to her holding myself in. I felt like crying. I felt so sad for her – it seems so wrong that anyone should endure this, least all someone you love. When I spoke, it was in short words and grunts. I couldn’t trust myself to anything more. I hung up and felt distressed.

Listening to mum like that, it’s hard to believe that she has anything more than a few days to live. You wonder how people survive this. She doesn’t want to survive it. She’s ready to go. I understand that utterly. I love my mum, but I don’t want her to suffer this – it seems cruel and unnecessary. I love her, but I’d push that button if it meant she had peace. Still, it seems hard to believe.

It’s been a bad week. We saw a doctor a week ago, and she gave a moderate prognosis. Since then, mum has deteriorated significantly. At times she is disorientated. She has a hacking, ugly cough. She has become so weak that she can barely get out of bed and can barely do anything unassisted. She is perpetually exhausted, some days talking as if she is heavily drugged, her lips thick, the words slurred.

On Saturday night she called me. It was about 10pm. She was scared she told me. She had been feeling terrible all day, and with the disorientation that bewilders. Her voice was full of anxiety. I tried to calm her. Try and sleep mu, I told her. Rest and we’ll see how you are in the morning. If you can’t call me. We rung off and I didn’t hear from her again. I went to bed feeling vaguely guilty. I almost called to check if she was alright, but realised that was silly. Best to trust that everything is ok.

At 6am my phone rang. It was my sister. Mum had called her, in a panic as Sharon said. She wanted to know what to do. I told her to take her to the hospital, as had been on my mind since the previous night. I rang mum to tell her what was happening. She sounded not terrible. I told her to call me when she was admitted. I asked for her to get the doctor to call me.

I lay in bed, sleepless now. I opened the blind and looked out at the pre-dawn world. I could see outlines in the darkness. It was quiet. I thought it was probably the quietest time of the week, no-one going to work, and everyone home from the night before. I made a coffee, I waited for the sun to rise, for the newspaper to be delivered, for the phone to ring. At about 10 mum rang. She had rested, the doctor had been to see her and said this was the the ‘beginning’ – the begin of the end, I presumed.

Early afternoon I visited mum, dropping by my sister’s first to collect a change of nighty and some toiletries for mum.

Hospitals are quiet Sunday. All a bustle during the week as people come and go visiting specialists and the like, come Sunday a skeleton staff looks after the patients and nothing much more happens. I’m never much good in hospitals. Give me a situation to resolve, an issue to act on, and I’m efficiency itself. Sitting though, visiting someone sick in the clinical surrounds of a hospital, sets me on edge. It was perhaps worse yesterday as this was my mum near to death. I hardly looked at her. I didn’t want to see her like that. Our conversation was practical and cursory. Mum was tired, the blinds closed. She was well enough but was happy to lay there doing nothing. I left after about 30 minutes.

I rang mum again first thing this morning. I half expected to find that mum had slept well and was feeling better. That wasn’t the case. She’d had another miserable night. She was so weak, she told me, that a nurse had to help her out of bed and to the bathroom. I called the doctor. It’s a different doctor from usual, this one a young Asian woman, approachable, friendly, and much more candid than our customary doctor. I asked to know the situation.

The doctor admitted that mum had declined significantly just in the last week. She said that if mum had another scan today, it would show much more than the scan of just 2 weeks ago did. Mum was in the final stages, a decline we could hope to manage but could not prevent. Why now? Sometimes it’s like that. It’s like the cancer has kicked up into another gear. It means that mum will be in and out of hospital, and a hospice must be considered. I’ve spoken to home palliative care and that will be necessary. Though she didn’t put a date on it, the sense I got from the doctor was that 2 months would likely see mum out, though, to be frank, I can’t see mum lasting longing than a month. If she doesn’t improve from how she was on the phone before then, I can’t see mum living beyond the next few days. And, if she doesn’t improve, I don’t want her to.