Mum looks so small lying there in the big hospital bed in our lounge, surrounded by countless pillows and duvets to keep her frail frame from bruising on her mattress. Her skin has turned a shade that no foundation would ever match. Her hair is soft and greying – it never quite recovered from the chemo pumped through her body, destroying her hair, but apparently not the cancer. She rarely opens her eyes now, but still has some awareness of the conversations taking place around her. She has been peaceful most of the time, but now her lungs are fighting against her and her body tries to cough out something that doesn’t exist, rattling her from head to toe.
I wonder what it must be like for her 84-year-old father who’s fit enough to swim 40 lengths of the pool each week. Healthy enough to go on long, fast, country walks, to play table tennis and to carry all of his shopping uphill from Waitrose every few days. It’s so unnatural to watch your adult child fade away in front of your eyes and be able to do nothing but make sure that her blanket stays covering her legs. He sits by her side all day, every day, watching endless amounts of TV and doing crosswords in his newspaper.
How must it be for my Dad who’s bounced everything off my Mum for nearly 28 years? When they made those vows all those years ago, I bet they never imagined that ‘in sickness and in health’ would come to this. You can see their love through everything that he does. He cares for my Mum so sensitively. The strength he shows in holding the house together, managing visitors and medical staff, waking up next to Mum every day, preparing her medications and holding her hand, is unlike a strength I’ve seen anywhere before.
It must be strange for Mum. I can’t imagine knowing that I would never leave the house again, never go up to my bedroom again, or even into the kitchen again. She knows she’s dying, yet she receives visitors happily and joins in conversations when she can, however slurred her speech may be now. She faces the prospect of death with seemingly no fear, putting her faith in the religion she’s trusted all her life. I can’t imagine how it must feel to wonder which part of your body might fail on you next, to know that you might not live to the weekend and will never feel the sun on your skin again. Yet, she faces it with a dignity and grace that most of us can’t muster when faced with the prospect of a half-hour trip on a weird smelling bus, never mind much else.
I love my Mum with every little bit of my body; I know I do, because it hurts and aches at the moment. I want nothing more than for her to be up and about, never sitting down, like she has been for the majority of my life. There is a small part of me that still hasn’t given up hope on that one, the reality is, though, that I will never see my Mum stand unaided again, never mind run around the house, and she’s tired… we’re all tired. Despite that tiredness, though, every minute of conversation I have with her, every kiss she tries to give me, every time she opens her eyes for me, is special, because I don’t know how many more moments like that I’m going to get.