We were all so fearful about the hospice at first.
But we couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The only way I can explain it…
Whenever I walked in that front door.
I felt different.
The feelings of panic. Of constant tummy-twisting anxiety.
They temporarily left me.
Maybe it was because everything was normal there.
In that context. Our situation just seemed routine.
The atmosphere was light.
Staff whistled. Joked about.
People stopped by just to say hello.
A nurse admired Mum’s fuschia pink toenails as they helped her into bed.
Someone else asked if she wanted a hairdresser to come in and do her hair.
Hang on a minute…
Was there a mix up at front desk?
We were looking for the hospice. Not booking in for a spa!
The night before she died. I stayed there.
They’ve got a little private twin room.
Decked out like a Premier Inn.
You can stay there for free.
When things are looking… imminent.
My step-dad went up to the room.
And I settled down for the night in the chair next to her bed.
She was in a deep sleep.
The nurses dimmed the lights. Gave me a blanket. Made sure I had everything I needed.
And then left us to it.
“Lights out in the dorm, Mum”. I said.
I remember thinking it felt vaguely exciting.
Being there. In the dark. And silence. Breaking the visiting hours rules.
Like a burglar.
That’s probably an inappropriate response to have when your mum’s about to die, isn’t it?
Fantasising about burgling the hospice.
But it all just felt so surreal.
At that point. Anything was possible.
The moment passed.
And my attention turned instead to logistics.
It felt important to be able to hold Mum’s hand. From where I was sitting.
To let her know that she wasn’t alone.
That I was there with her.
So I set about trying to manoeuvre the chair. Into a better position.
But. It was heavy.
And there were so many bits of paraphernalia around the bed.
It was tricky to get right up along side her.
I’d get the chair into what I thought was the right place.
To find I could only reach her hand if I leant right forward.
Or perch precariously on the end of the seat.
No. That wouldn’t do.
What if I dozed off?
Leant back by accident and then let go?
For some reason. The need to hold her hand.
All night long.
Had become obsessive.
So I set to work again.
Quietly. Trying to manoeuvre. And re-manoeuvre. This bloody chair.
To find the perfect spot.
It was dark in there.
I kept clumsily knocking into the bed. Making Mum rock about in her sleep.
Or I’d spill over the water jug on the side cabinet.
Every time I apologised I could see how utterly ridiculous I must have looked.
Like Mr Bean. On a bedside vigil.
And so I’d start weirdly laughing to myself.
Whilst still trying to shift the bloody chair around.
In the dark.
And the quiet.
Not quite what you see in the movies, is it? Mr Bean does Beaches…
I did it.
I managed to find the perfect spot.
Took her hand in mine.
The chair wedged up alongside her bed so close I may as well have just jumped in there with her.
I told her we were having a sleepover.
Told her about everything I could think of.
Things that I knew that my lovely nosey mum would want to know.
Like what was going on in the hospice.
What the noises were down the corridors.
The little twin room upstairs. A description of the stripey bedsheets.
I knew this would be the last time I’d ever have my mum to myself.
So I studied her face.
So still and peaceful. Features so dainty.
I remember thinking how young she looked.
I whispered to her.
“Mum, you’re just like Benjamin Button”
I used to call her that a lot.
To make her laugh.
Tell her how she looked younger and younger every time I saw her.
“Benjamin Button!” she’d laugh. Loving the compliment.
I couldn’t help but think how beautiful. And rested. She looked.
I asked myself if there was anything that I wanted to tell her.
Before it was too late.
I decided there wasn’t.
She knew everything already.
There was nothing that hadn’t already been conveyed.
Either through words or actions.
Over the past 18 months.
When I’d finally stopped rambling.
With my one free hand. I composed a text.
Probably the longest text message I’ve written in my life.
It was to my ex.
The ex who had been part of my family. For almost 10 years.
The ex who had left. Just months after Mum’s terminal diagnosis.
And not been in touch since.
Not to find out how Mum was.
Not to find out how I was.
Til then. I hadn’t really allowed myself to think about any of it.
I couldn’t afford to.
I had to stay focussed.
But now. With Mum in here.
Her final night.
Everything was seeping to the surface.
It had been 9 months since he’d left.
Since I’d seen him.
But it felt as fresh and painful as if it’d just happened.
Because. In my mind.
In some ways.
I wrote out the message.
A big. Long. Angry. Raw. Hurt. Sad message.
I read it out loud to Mum. Still fast asleep.
With the salty taste of tears in my mouth.
I deleted it.
I didn’t need to send it to him.
It felt enough just to write it.
To tell Mum.
Her final act of always being able to. Somehow. Make me feel better.
Even. At the most unexpected of times.
I fell asleep.
Next to Mum.
For the last time.
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