We gently told Mum she needed to come home with us, and she agreed. Her cancer had reached her brain, she had secondary growths.
I made her tasty little meals and sat with her most afternoons, she never mentioned her illness. Those long quiet afternoons were hard to deal with, I longed for her to open up and tell me how she felt, but instead the dog we had was the best at communicating with her, his head on her knee, his eyes on her face. Mum died the day she was taken into hospital. Quietly with dignity and still without saying the word cancer.
My husband found the grief too hard, he tried to ignore it, the children were very sad as they each dealt with it in their own way, for one it was to pretend all was normal, for another withdrawing. The boys were 13 and 15, our daughter was 17. The middle boy was amazing he knew Mum didn’t want to talk much, so he said, “Gran I know you can’t talk much, so just nod your head if I ask you something, and I will do it for you”. His thoughtful way of dealing with it was mature beyond his years.
When we had first left England to visit Australia, my father was in hospital. I had already talked to the doctors, before we even agreed to go on this trip. They gave me their opinion that my father did have cancer. They said, “We can see him being cared for at home, and we will keep him comfortable”. I asked if it was okay to go to so far away. They told me it was, so I talked to Dad and he said, “I want you to see your brother”. Three days after we arrived he had invasive treatment (I would not have allowed) and he died saying, “That’s it my dear, I’ve had enough”.
The grief I felt about his death was tinged with guilt. If I had been there I would have stopped him being tortured with treatment that was far too late! I would have been there for Mum too, as she was so alone. We returned from holiday for his funeral. I took three years to actually deal with it. I didn’t cry at the time.
When Dad and I had talked a year or so before his death, I had asked him to do a tape of his life. He did it bit by bit, memories and snippets about his childhood. Of course I was busy, working, dealing with teenagers trying to keep life going. I didn’t listen properly to the tape, just briefly played some, and put it aside. It then haunted me and I could not play it, I took years. Then one day I eventually steeled myself and listened to my dad’s voice, of course the tears I had not shed came. I finally grieved for him.
My mother stayed in England when we came to live in Australia. I so wanted her to come with us, but she had a granddaughter getting married and wanted to be there. In May 1988 she arrived and we had family parties and celebrations, our family was complete.
We arranged a little flat for her to live in independently. I had seen her every day, as a train strike had prevented me getting to work, but one day I got no answer when I tried to get in. Later, when I got the key, I found she had suffered a massive stroke and was unable to talk. In hospital they gave her a very slim chance, and in fact I was called in next morning so I could sit with her as she gently slipped away. I told her I loved her, and encouraged her to ‘just sleep’. She understood, I know, and earlier when I made a statement she winked at me just to show she had heard.
I was on autopilot, not really grieving, just doing things, just existing. Arranging a funeral; and then telling friends and family. I felt so cheated by her death, just when we had a chance to spend more time together, she had been snatched away. I packed up her things later, and found all the cards I had sent her over 20 years or more, and shed tears. I found a cardigan she had worn, and kept it for a long time as it still smelled of her. Sometimes even that is a comfort. I feel even now she is watching over me, and 30 years later I think of her, and the legacy of love she left. Grief takes time. Some hang onto the grief, it becomes central to life. Reaching the next stage when we remember and talk and laugh as we remember them, is the ultimate goal.