I sat by the bed but couldn’t bring myself to hold her hand. I just looked at it. The ring that I bought her so recently was still resting on her finger, albeit now held in place with some tape. Her body looked so frail and light, she was silent, except for the shallow breaths that came and went. Her eyes were closed. This was my mum, the strong lady who had brought me up, who had worked so hard for me, reduced to this lifeless figure that lay before me. She was dying. I didn’t know how long she had left, no one could tell me, but I had a strong suspicion that this would be the last time I saw her. It was.
That visit to the hospital will always stay as vivid in my mind as it is now. I knew before I even entered the room that it would probably be the last time I would make the journey. I had given it a lot of thought as I didn’t want to regret anything that I did or said. For that matter I didn’t want to regret not saying or doing anything either.
I had received an email from a friend the day before who had lost her mum a few years before. Her advice had been to tell my mum that it was OK for her to go. To give her permission to die. The very thought of speaking those words filled me with fear and dread and yet I felt that it was something I should do. Mum wasn’t coming back, I knew that. There was no way in the world that she was going to recover from the cancer that had eaten her away. I hated seeing her like this. It was time for her to be free from the ugly mass her body had become.
As I sat there, in the chair by her bed, I felt suddenly self conscious. Could there be a more important meeting? It was my last chance to say everything I wanted to. If I said anything wrong or missed anything out I would regret it for the rest of my life. I cried.
Looking back on that day I am relieved to say I do not regret anything. I did tell Mum that it was time for her to go. I told her that we didn’t want to see her in pain anymore and that, whilst we would all miss her, we would be strong and we would be OK. I told her that I loved her and that I would make sure my son knew all about his Granny. He was only 3 and so I knew I would have to help him to remember her.
It is now a little over four years later and I can still look back on that final visit with no regret. I sometimes wish that I could have brought myself to hold Mum’s hand but I know that she wouldn’t have expected me to. It was just something I couldn’t bring myself to do, I think I was afraid of how it would feel.
There are many things that I could regret, many decisions, especially those we made towards the end of her life but I still feel we did the right things and I am forever grateful that I do not question those difficult times.
That’s not to say that there are not things I would have done differently, but they are mainly things from a long time ago. I wish that I had not spent so much time shut upstairs in my room when I lived at home. There were only the two of us and I can clearly remember saying, ‘I’m going upstairs’ and heading up to my bedroom leaving mum alone downstairs most evenings after tea. The stupid thing is that I have no idea what I was doing up there. It was so important that I can’t remember it and yet it was enough to leave my mum alone for. When I think of all the hours we spent apart and yet in the same house I could just kick myself. All the conversations we missed out on and the laughs we could have shared. If I could go back in time I would be sitting there with her every evening. I would just love to sit and watch TV with her now or just sit and chat. I hate that I gave away all that time. Time that now feels so precious to me. I would give almost anything just to be able to spend another 5 minutes by her side.
I also regret not helping more around the house. I suppose I was a typical teenager, every household job was a chore. I should have done more and not dragged my feet so much - stopped moaning and just got on with it. I feel this clearly now that I have my own house to run. If only I’d learned more from her. Mum loved to clean and have everything sparkly and clear. It seemed effortless to her. Home always had a wonderful atmosphere, it was cosy, warm and safe. I never realised how much hard work it took to create this feeling. I think I must have assumed it was just ‘there’. As I try to recreate it now for my own child, I know just how much it takes and I will be forever amazed that Mum managed it so well considering everything else that was going on in her life.
I could also have learnt a lot from my mum about cooking, another thing I regret every time I switch the oven on! I was just not that interested in baking and cooking as a teenager. It was another thing that Mum loved to do and so I left her to it. The food she made was always delicious. Quite frequently now I will remember one of the dishes she used to prepare and wish I could remember what it was called or how to make it. But it’s too late now. I never asked when I could have done. I will always regret that.
This amazing lady was bringing me up alone, struggling in so many ways, and working full time. I only wish I had the insight back then that I have now, all these years later. I just hope I didn’t make things any harder. At the time I was just a child, in so many ways removed from the reality of life. Still living in some idealistic bubble surrounded by my own agonies and importance. Looking back now, I want to pop that bubble. I want to shout at myself to realise what was right under my nose and to care for it and nurture it. I had the most fantastic mum in the world and I took her for granted. That hurts.
I can almost hear my mum’s voice as I write this piece saying that she wouldn’t have changed a thing. That’s Mum all over. She was a giver and, in the end, she gave everything. My job now is to take all that she gave to me and to pass it on. The unlimited love that she showed to me I must now share with my son and, eventually, any children that he has. This motherly love still shines from within me, everyday, even though my mum is no longer here. She lives on in the way that I live my life.