Friday, May 31, 2013

Out of Cyprus again: losing my mother

Just four weeks after we returned to Cyprus after a month in the UK, we're back in England again. 

On Monday, my mother died. 

She was 80 last November. Not all that old by 21st century standards. But she was quite frail, and serious arthritis had made her mobility worse and worse over the years.  She was recently diagnosed with secondary bone cancer, and knew that she had only a few years ahead of her at most, but none of us had expected her to pass away so soon.  

It was only ten weeks since she came out of hospital after a lengthy period recovering from a infection, the cancer newly diagnosed but under control.  Ten weeks since she moved into Maple Dene, a wonderful residential care home about a mile away from her house. She had resisted residential care for some time, determined to retain her independence, and also to provide a home for our son Tim who had been living with her as a student for five years. 

A series of falls, bad infections, and increasing difficulties in looking after herself made the decision fairly easy. Tim did a great deal of research on her behalf, and knew when he walked into Maple Dene that it was the right place. The atmosphere is relaxing, the scent fresh, the gardens lovely, and the staff are some of the most helpful and friendly we have come across. Moreover, while some residents have a traditional bedsit, there are others with small apartments, where the bedroom and living room are separate. 

One such mini apartment became vacant at exactly the time when my mother was due to be discharged from hospital. So Tim - in conjunction with my siblings - made the arrangements, and she moved in mid-March. 

While we were in the UK in April, we helped one of my brothers to move her large bureau into her new living room, along with a selection of her books and pictures:

She spent most of her time sitting in her favourite chair, always pleased to see us or other family members when we called in:

She could only walk a small distance, using a zimmer frame, so the staff would take her to and from meals in a wheelchair. The food was excellent - she greatly appreciated it - and the dining room arrangement meant that people would sit with the same group at each meal, giving the chance to get to know them. When we arrived, three weeks after she had moved in, she was already talking about a friend who she chatted with over meals; they had been discussing books from their childhood. 

Maple Dene specialises in the elderly and those with mobility problems, and there were some who were considerably less mobile and aware than my mother. The staff met their needs with patience and cheerfulness.  Each room was equipped with cords that could be pulled for assistance, or just to ask questions if they wanted to speak to someone.  A tea and coffee trolley came round mid-morning and mid-afternoon, offering hot drinks to visitors as well as to residents,  and carers helped residents to get dressed in the morning, and to get into bed at night when needed. 

It's not a full nursing home; however, district nurses come in when needed, and a GP can be called out if necessary.  My mother had bad lymphoedema in her legs and arms, so district nurses came in to bandage her legs three times per week, and another nurse came to deal with her arms. They told us that they were concerned about the swelling, but it seemed to be under control while we were there.

Meanwhile we were sorting out the furniture and other items in my mother's house. She was pretty well organised, and had very little clutter or junk.  One weekend my brother arrived to help sort and deal with paperwork, and to take away one or two things he and his wife were going to keep.  We played a game of Rummikub with my mother in the afternoon:

She struggled to distinguish some of the colours; she had  needed a cataract operation for nearly a year, so her eyesight was suffering, but it was finally booked for mid-July.  She had to ask for a bit of help telling black from blue, and took longer to make her moves than she used to, but she still played well.  One game tired her, however, so we didn't play any more. 

A week later, all my siblings and their spouses came to Birmingham for the day, to blitz the house and to take away the various items they were going to have.  It was a lovely sunny day, so when we all went to visit our mother after lunch, we decided to have coffee outside.  It had been a long winter, and the daffodils were only just out in early May, much later than usual.  We took some group photos, which I'm pleased to have, but they are quite formal. My mother was never really photogenic.  

Some instinct made me snap a few more photos when she was talking to someone else, concentrating on them rather than on the camera.  I had a couple that came out well, but was most pleased - when I had cropped it - with this one:

She thoroughly enjoyed our visit. The following day, Richard and I called in to see her again, before going to the airport. I am so glad we did.  We had no idea that it would be the last time we would see her on this earth.

Her final illness was unexpected, and brief.  All my siblings were able to get to Maple Dene, and at least one of them was with her continually, although she had lost consciousness by Sunday morning. She had said repeatedly that she did not want to go to hospital again, and her wishes were respected. One of my brothers was with her as she passed away peacefully, in the early hours of Monday. 

The funeral is on Tuesday June 4th.

We flew out of Larnaka on Wednesday, having managed to get seats on the same flight as Daniel and Becky. We rented a car at Manchester Airport and drove up to Carlisle to crash here for a couple of days.

Tonight we will be driving down to Birmingham. Tomorrow we're meeting my siblings to finish clearing out our mother's room at Maple Dene, transferring them temporarily back to her house, which was in the process of being sold. The sale will inevitably be delayed as we wait for probate.

We know that it's really going to hit us tomorrow: that she's truly gone, and that our lives are changed irrevocably. 

I know that she was frail, and in pain, and frustrated at her lack of independence. I know that in many ways she was ready to die - she had spent considerable time with Tim talking about the details of what she wanted in her funeral.  I am very thankful that we had three weeks of seeing her daily, so recently, and making her new apartment feel more home-like. I'm more grateful than I can express for that last Saturday with the family, when we took the photos. 

As Tim posted on Facebook on the day she died:
"...she is with her saviour now, walking with ease, reading without difficulty, focussing without struggling to understand. All her weaknesses have passed away, and she's somewhere far better."
But still, we are grieving.

I lost all my grandparents in the space of about twenty-five years, and each loss saddened me, but it was relatively easy to let go, to feel that their time had come, that they had always been old and that the timing was right.

Losing a parent is evidently a whole order more difficult.


the Idiot Mouflon said...

Καλή δύναμη.

Word by word, "Good strength". It means "be strong".

parepidemos said...

So very, very sorry to learn of your loss. My own mother passed away, at the age of 80, just after last Christmas so the grieving is fresh enough to feel for your own situation.

It is a blessing that you were able to spend some quality time with her just recently; there are no coincidences with God. It is good that you grieve and weep and feel lost, for such is one of the fruits of love; it binds us in such a way that separation is painful. But we know that for your mother, life is changed but not ended. Her body may lie in death but her soul is in the presence of God. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

Anvilcloud said...

My condolences, Sue. It sounds like she did pretty well up until he end, and the end itself was mercifully short. Oddly enough, my mother was also scheduled for a cataract operation which she never made it to.

Gina said...

I am so very sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

My condolences.
May her memory lives on with you.

Cathleen said...

Sue, I am so sorry for your loss. I am so glad that you were able to spend so much time with your Mother on your last trip.

Steve Hayes said...

Memory eternal!