Monday 15 November 2010

ANITA 14th October 1928 - 15th November 2010

7:48pm, I was heading towards the pharmacy aisle in the Supermarket when my phone rang. It was Mum’s Care Home. I’d already had a couple of updates on Mum’s condition since Mum was discharged from Hospital, so I wasn’t overly alarmed.

The Carer, H, began by telling me that Mum wasn’t well just now, that she’d suffered vomiting and diarrhoea earlier today. My heart sank a little, but I still didn’t guess what was coming.

“I took your Mum some tea to drink in her room at 6:50. I checked in again at 7:20 and she wasn’t breathing.”

I sat down on the floor.

“The Paramedics are with her now,” H said, her voice breaking into a sob. “They’re doing CPR on her, but haven’t been able to get her breathing so far.”

“So, it’s been longer than 30 minutes since she stopped breathing?”


I felt numb and very, very calm, as is my custom in a crisis. It’s a practical trait but I always feel self-conscious about how cold it might appear to others. I told ‘H’ that I needed a moment to collect my thoughts. I told her that I was very sorry, since she was obviously so upset. I asked her what she thought I should do. She told me to wait and that she would ring again when they had news, maybe in 10 minutes.

I walked home and then rang the Care Home to tell them that I was going to drive over. ‘H’ told me that the Paramedics had ceased their attempts to resuscitate Mum. I asked her what the procedure was now and she explained that the Police would have to be called, since this was classed as a sudden unexplained death. Then the Undertakers would take Mum to the Hospital.

I asked that they delay until I got there, and I quickly packed a bag and drove over the Pennines.

‘H’ sat me down and warned me that I would find Mum still intubated (as an avid viewer of hospital dramas, I had anticipated this). Once I was ready, we entered Mum’s bedroom. The radio on her bedside table was tuned to Classic FM, and they were playing the Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th Symphony, the piece used for the movie “Death in Venice”. I thought the radio was a lovely gesture. Mum was there in bed, sort of. I find I’m having trouble these days recognising faces, and Mum’s face looked smaller and most unfamiliar. She looked like a bit like a waxwork, but with an unconvincing blue/grey pallor. As I reached the end of the bed, I thought she’d opened an eye at me and was conscious, but it was just that one of her eyelids was slightly open, and my change of angle had made this look like it had just happened.

I asked ‘H’ to tell me about Mum’s last day, and we sat and reminisced for a few minutes. Then ‘H’ asked me if I wanted to be alone with Mum and I said yes.

Once alone, I sat closer to Mum and tried to talk to her. I stumbled over a few clichés about hoping that she was at peace now, and so on. Then I wanted to feel whether she was cold and I placed a hand on her forehead. The top of her head didn’t feel cold, but maybe the forehead was slightly colder than it ought to be… I wasn’t sure. I took some photos of Mum lying there. It felt horribly wrong, but I knew I wasn't quite "in the moment" and that I would need to see her again to absorb this. Then I pulled back the cover slightly and reached for her right hand and took it in mine, manipulating her fingers so that we were clasping each other’s hands. I don’t recall what I said then, but it felt more honest and meaningful. I put her hand back just as ‘H’ returned to tell me that the Undertakers had arrived. She tactfully suggested that I leave them to their work, and I guessed that Mum might have voided her bowels or something in the hours since death and that ‘H’ was kindly trying to preserve my last memory of her. I went back to the Lounge and answered the Police Officer’s questions. Before long, the Undertakers were wheeling their trolley back through the Lounge with Mum in a body bag. I could make out the place where the material was tight over Mum’s nose – a surreal moment trying to determine the contours of my Mother’s face through polyester. Then she was gone.

It looks like there will have to be an autopsy, since Mum wasn’t seen by a GP within the past 7 days (Hospital Doctors “don’t count”, apparently, and won’t sign a Death Certificate in any case). I will have to correspond with the Coroner to arrange the funeral details once he has released her body later in the week.

I am in shock, I think. I am still feeling very calm and I’ve been able to say some very rational things to the people here about how it’s comforting to know that Mum died quickly “at home” and without suffering a long-drawn out death in Hospital. I know she was glad to be back in familiar surroundings and that she died sitting in the chair by her window, where she always told me that she enjoyed listening to the birds outside. I just wish I’d been perceptive enough to see this coming, that I’d consciously said my goodbyes to Mum whilst she was alive, if that makes any sense.

Perhaps I’m calm because I’ve already done my grieving for Mum. Over the past 3 years I’ve come to terms with her loss because her Self, her deliberate Self, the Mother I knew, was already gone. I took guardianship of the helpless, happy, loving, child who took her place for a time. And doing that forced me to grow up a little. It forced me to give something back. It helped me adjust my opinion of myself just a little bit to the positive. I did some good things for Mum and gave her peace of mind and security and care when she needed it. And that gives me some peace of mind, too.

She left me, as graceful in her departure as she was throughout her life. I’m grateful to her for all of this.

Thank you, Mum.


Lily said...

I know I'm going to be reading this post over and over for the next few days. It touches me so deeply for oh so many reasons. I shall be thinking of you and wishing you peace and comfort through this final journey. Take good care of yourself Greg, you were/are a good son x

LSL said...

So, so difficult, Greg. I am so sincerely sorry. I can relate to a great deal of this, as it immediately took me back to being with my grandfather, my favorite person, when he died. I wish I had your number or could drive myself to your place right this second. Best I don't and can't, I'm sure, but I wish I could. You've grieved for a long time - clearly. And you did a great deal of good for her. That is also clear. Take comfort, my friend. Lots of love to you.

Greg said...

Thank you, both. I do, indeed, take comfort that I made a lot of good decisions for Mum and provided what she needed for the last few years of her happy life. I think I've said all I can within the post here (for once), but I'm grateful for your messages. Thank you for being with me on the journey. It has meant a lot to me to have your support and insight.

G x

citygirl said...

Hi Greg, I will also be reading this post over & over again. I'm so sorry for your loss. I wish I could call you up or hug you too. I'm crying for you, with my infant son sleeping beside me. You wouldn't believe how hard I'm crying for you. I feel like I know you since I've been on this journey with you.

Your posting took me back to the day that my mom passed and how I went to her and sat with her in her room and watched her be wheeled out later by the undertakers.

Keep strong over the next's going to be hard, even though you've been grieving for years. It will hit you very hard now & then. Know that you did your very best over the years and that your mom is at rest now, free from the horrible and cruel disease.

accidental carer said...

Greg I have been calling almost every day to see how Mum is but I missed Monday. I am so sorry for your loss.
She was blessed to have you care so much for her particularly in the last three years. What would those three years have been like without you watching out for her.
Just take it slowly now and keep sharing your stories . They really do help others . Warm wishes Greg xx

Sheilagh said...

I echo the words of those before me. I have followed your blog via Trish and have always been touched by your loving care of your dear mum. My prayers and thoughts are with you now and over the next few weeks.



citygirl said...

p.s. that is a beautiful photo of your mum in this that you as a baby?

pablo said...


I am so, so sorry for your loss. I don't know what to say as I am sitting here crying for you.

I have followed your journey for a few years now & have always been touched by how much you loved her & by how lovingly you cared for her.

You have been a great son to her. Your stories have reached my heart & moved me to tears.

Keep strong & may peaces be with you.


Matt said...

Oh, Greg. I've been away from most of my old blog friends for so long, and just started catching up the other day. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. It's true, you have done a lot of grieving for so long, and it's also true that you were a strong and loving force in the last years. You are in my thoughts and I send strength and hugs your way.

Greg said...

Friends, thank you ALL for being with me on my journey - your company meant a lot to me, whether you were offering suggestions or sympathy, support or a simple "been there". It always meant that I wasn't alone in the situation, and that made even the worst of this journey tolerable. Please don't cry - Mum went painlessly and quickly in the best of circumstances, back home in familiar surroundings. I couldn't have asked for a better end for her.

citygirl said...

Greg, I just wanted to let you know that I'm thinking of you. Yes, all the way over here in Canada, you're on someone's mind. I've read this entry again this evening as I feel like I was in shock when I read it the other day.

I wish I had taken photos of my mom when she passed. I know it might have felt horribly wrong but in some cultures, they take pictures at wakes (my dad had pictures of his own mother at her wake).

I also really "get" what you mean about your mom having the best possible ending. I always horrified myself by imagining really bad endings for my mom...I'm good at self-torture. Like you mum, my mom had the best possible ending too, in familiar surroundings at her nursing home. She also left gracefully, quickly and quietly which is a true blessing.

I hope you are doing ok. I'm guessing you've contacted your sister? I hope her visit home goes alright. Hugs, citygirl

Greg said...

Ah, CityMom...thank you. I hope you know how much I appreciated and was helped by what you had to say about your own journey with your Mom.

Oh God, should I tell you about my Sister?.... I tried to call her overseas as soon as I had the news but there was no answer. A day later I discovered by chance that they were visiting here in the UK and hadn't told anyone that they'd be here. So I called their UK mobile phone number and my Brother-in-Law eventually picked up. I said that I wanted to be the one to tell my Sister some very sad news about Mum, but I could hear my Sister in the background saying "I don't WANT TO". She hasn't spoken to me or to my Mum in 6 years and it seems that even our Mother's death doesn't change anything. In the early days, I was hurt that I wasn't getting even her emotional support in caring for Mum, then I spent a long time frightened for her (thinking that she'd feel awfully guilty if she didn't reconcile with Mum in the time left). Now I just feel sickened and at the limit of my patience.

Families, huh?

accidental carer said...

Greg for you own sanity just leave it. If she cannot feel then you can't make her. She will have to live with this and you cannot be responsible for that. You have tried to make contact and "do the right thing" that is all you can do. Just relax in the knowledge that Mum had the one who was in a place to be able to care for her and she had the most loving care from you that was possible. Your sister may think she has left it too late to change her thoughts but believe me one day she will.
We are all different - hope you are doing ok on this next chapter Greg and it is you who have given so much in your blog by your honesty and your ability to verbalise your emotions like I have never seen before. I hope you will continue xx

Maz said...

Oh Greig! (((hugs)))
You speak so tenderly and your words touched me so much!
God bless
Maz x

citygirl said...

Wow Greg...families indeed...that is awful that your sister wouldn't take the phone. I cannot believe someone can be like that. I'm sorry. I wish I could do something for you. Some families are impossible as I know all too well. I hope you are doing ok - just take care of your mom's affairs and yourself. That is the last straw for your sister.

Anonymous said...

Awww, when I read this, somehow I imagine myself in the same position some day down the road, maybe tomorrow, maybe years from now. ((( hugs ))) My heart goes out to you.

Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to you. I just read your blog after missing several months.

My mom died Aug 14. I've posted here as anonymous over the past several years. (eg. ...the shrinking window in the wall) Your blog has been a tremendous comfort to me while caring for my mom. It helped knowing someone else would understand the weird and sometimes frightening circumstances that come up. She too had vascular dementia. Her passage took 9 years. They say her death was peaceful, but it didn't feel that way to me. I was there and it was wrenching. Hospice helped her avoid the hospital. The hospice people were earth angels.

Our experiences have echoed each other though we live on different sides of the globe. Thanks for the support your blog has given everyone going through this. I have no sibs. My partner is very supportive... but it wasn't his mom.
Your efforts have given much more than you realize.

thank you.

Greg said...

Dear PT

I'm sorry to hear that you lost your Mom this year. I remember your comments and that I found them helpful and inspiring. I feel both humble and grateful that you found some comfort having me along for the journey, too. Hopefully we can both look to the future now, knowing that we did what we could for our Mothers. I'm glad you have a supportive partner with you.

I want to thank everyone again for their comments and support over the past few years.

I'm not going to linger here too much. There are photos of Mum alive that I took only weeks ago when I had no idea that she was about to die, and it's too hard to look at them just now.


Anonymous said...


So sorry to hear about your mom! Just remember she was so proud of you and you shouldn't worry about your sister... sounds like a complete cow actually. How are you nieces taking it? Are they like your sister?

Stay strong xxx

Greg said...

Thank you, Anonymous :)

I'm able to remind myself that I stepped up and took responsibility when I was needed, and that I took some decisions which ensured Mum was well cared for, safe and happy. She expressed her gratitude to me every time I saw her. It was scary to take charge, and a steep learning curve for me, but what seemed overwhelming at first became second-nature very soon. In many ways, Mum's dependence was the making of me - it forced me to grow up in a way that I hadn't before.

As for my Sister, she has her own problems, pretty obviously, so I don't want to dump on her. This is one of those situations where you cannot go backward and make amends and I fear for her in the future if she develops a conscience about what happened here. Similarly, though I have been lobbying to see her for the past few years, sending her personal and family items that I have unearthed, much of my hope and desire to restore things has left me now. In fact, I would find seeing her quite troubling at the moment.

My Nieces are absolutely wonderfully sweet-natured and I really wish I saw more of them. The older one attended Mum's funeral with me and was very supportive.

Thank you for your thoughts

karen said...

I am so sorry. Take care . God Bless.I will have to go through this someday and I hope I can with such grace as you. Thank you for helping me .

The Honourable Husband said...


I'm only a recent convert to your writings, and a newcomer to this thoughtfully-told tale.

Let me offer belated, but heartfelt, condolence. Condolence not just for your mother's death, but for the many other bereavements, large and small, that occurred over the years. There must have been times when you felt loss piled upon loss, griefs of every kind in constant succession.

You wrote of your mother's previous emotional distance, and how you simply would not allow the memory of it to derail you on this journey.

Before he died, I confronted the same with my father--from whom I copped a truckload of physical and emotional abuse--and like you, found that the experience made an adult of me. No, scratch that. It made a man of me.

My partner and I recently saw a retrospective of the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, which included the famous sequence of photographs in which he meticulously documented his wife's death from cancer thirty years ago. The images were brutal. But somehow, in acknowledging the brutality of death, utterly respectful.

I am sure that no matter how ghoulish you may have felt photographing your mother at your last visit, it was a necessary act. We need to remember what the truth actually looks like, do we not?


Greg said...

Thank you, THH.

As a former resident of Munich (and, indeed, Tokyo) with many fond memories, I have been very interested to read your blog for some time now.

Today I find I'm a lot less confident writing on this subject, so forgive me if I keep this short. I am pleased to find another topic we have in common and I am interested to read that you similarly felt you grew as a Man in dealing with your Father's decline. I'm sure you found that all the rules change when a relative succumbs to dementia and that there is no point in holding grudges, because the person with whom you've struggled is gone. It is a bewildering process and I'm glad I recorded it all as it happened. Most of these entries are just like those photographs I took at the end: I look back at them now to confirm that these events really took place. At times I worried about being disrespectful to my Mother by revealing too much, but those snapshots I was most challenged by ended up being those I'm proudest of, and they usually got the strongest response from others.

I didn't feel able to pursue my dreams whilst my Mother was so dependent. Once her estate is settled I have no more excuses and I hope to settle my affairs here be on the road again. I'll give you guys a shout if I'm passing through Munich.


Chris said...

A very fine and moving account of your mother's decline and death.

All the best

Chris Moore

Chris said...

I also loved the detail of your own uncertainties, the medical technology.... All in all, convincing, and I recognised some of the reactions from my own experiences with dying - only others so far.

Greg said...

Thanks, Chris.

I think you may be the first person to comment who actually knew Mum. Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words. I've been pleased over the years that others have recognised and shared their own experiences. I'm sure the 'convincing' aspect comes from writing it all down as it happened. The uncertainty on my part is always a given. It was lovely to see you and your Mother again recently

Best Wishes


chris said...

Hi, Greg,

I've recommended your pages to friends - the poetry to my one or two literary friends.

You really drew me in to your mum's last years and your own feeling your way forward.

Thank you.

Great to see you in the summer.

Anonymous said...

Dear Greg

I don't know whether you ever revisit these pages. I came back to my own and in doing so, re-found you - and found also that your Mum had died so unexpectedly, heart-wrenchingly suddenly. After all that time, then - no time. No time at all.

I'm so sorry. I love the photo of your Mum and you as a little boy. Her eyes so full of joy, and how that resonates because I was lucky enough to see the same in my own mother's eyes, and I hope that's what my own two sons see in mine.

I remember too, how you took your Mum to the make up department in a store to while away a happy hour or so of cosseting. How thoughtful you were, how caring.

I hope your life has pieced itself together. I hope you are happy. We can never be the same again, I know, but perhaps we can keep the light still, somewhere, that light of having loved someone so much.

I lost Mum too, last year. Not sure yet, if, I can write about it but I wouldn't have changed looking after her for the world.

Take care Greg. Tx

Greg said...

Dear Anonymous

Thank you for commenting. Anything posted here is automatically forwarded to me by email.

I do, occasionally, revisit in order to remind myself of the detail. I've been writing and performing poems about Mum and her illness, and my evolving awareness of what was needed of me. I've got 30 completed now and at least as many in progress. I've been very pleased by the strong response that these poems receive whenever I've performed them and I hope one day to publish, at which point I'll add a post here with information as to how to get hold of the book.

It's a little over 3 years now since Mum died. Sometimes it feels like longer, sometimes it feels extremely recent.

I'm very sorry to hear of your loss and I'm grateful to hear from you. Like you, I am glad I had the opportunity to care for my Mum. It gave me a chance to thank her and to be the Son I often doubted I could be, a better person, I hope.

I understand when you say that you're not sure about writing about your loss. I wrote this blog as a way of coping at the time, whilst also hoping that it would help others. Now, three years on, I find that a lot of the fine detail is missing from my memory and I'm so glad I got it down before I forgot.

Best wishes

Greg x

Tilly said...

Oh Greg, so good of you to write & how lovely to hear back from you.

Please do post about your poems. I would love to get a copy when you publish. It is the most extraordinary journey.

I couldn't sign in before -I had completely forgotten my password! Tilly x