Early in the morning of Sunday 13th December 2009, at exactly 06.41 am, mum passed. Even though I knew it was coming I felt blindsided by the intensity of my emotions of complete and utter shock.
So before I write the more positive part about mums legacy, I suppose first I ought to explain the circumstance of her death…
Although mum died on Sunday 13th December 2009, in reality the last time I really “saw” mum was the previous Sunday, 6th of December, her 66th Birthday.
We took the girls in to visit her in her hospital room where she had been living for the past few months due to not having one but two cancers to contend with. The Non~Hodgkin Lymphoma was a beast that had been with her since the 80’s and had reared its ugly head above the parapet a few times in the intervening years, the resulting chemo sessions were always gruelling for mum. However it was the second cancer that appeared alongside the final reoccurrence of the lymphoma that had resulted in mum having to live in the hospital. She had a very rare form of insulinoma, which had the Doctors treating her flummoxed, resulting in many international consultation calls with other Doctors. They struggled to find a way to treat it, being brutally honest with us saying they were learning as they went along, asking permission to have her as a patient study for students. We obviously said yes, if it couldn’t help mum but subsequently helped someone else further down the line then why not. The insulinoma caused mums blood sugar levels to be incredibly unpredictable. The doctors had concocted a special, never used before trial medication which was deployed via a syringe driver. Mum homed it in a little bum bag around her waist which hid it from view, so not to upset the children ~ with just the hint of tubing visible before going under her clothing. For a while it kept mum reasonably stable and at home. The syringe driver alone was not sufficient ~ alongside it she also had to have a sugary snack such as a glass of Lucozade or honey sandwich every 4 hours, day and night (so many alarms were necessary). This worked for a short while, meaning daily round trips to and from hospital were necessary to get the fresh syringes installed into the driver. Then things got worse, the sugars more unpredictable, she couldn’t control the hypo or hyper attacks which almost killed her ~ so a room at the hospital became her new home. Then, just to knock her down a little more, whilst in hospital she contracted Clostridium difficile (C.Diff) which meant we had to wear gloves, aprons and masks when visiting which was awful!
Anyway back to when we last really saw mum as mum, the girls had baked her two cakes for her birthday, they couldn’t decide on whether to make a coffee or chocolate cake ~ so made both! She smiled at the girls and took a small bite of each cake before declaring them delicious. It was, we found out later, the last thing she ever ate. We spent some fabulous precious time with her, laughing and joking, sadly we couldn’t stay long, she tired easily and she still had a queue of friends coming in to visit her on her birthday. So we all said our goodbyes ~ for Dave and the girls it was the last time they would see her. We all despised the barriers of the gloves, aprons and masks we were told to wear, so we chose to defy the hospital rules and each gave mum a kiss and cuddle before we left.
Only a couple of days later, the Tuesday teatime, my dad rang me ~ mum was in intensive care, things were not looking good and I should come.
I arrived just as I was, I didn’t think to pack anything and joined dad in the intensive care room where mum was hooked up to so many syringe drivers and drips it was unreal. My brother Justin, who lives down London way and my sister Chloe, who lives in France, arrived within hours and joined us. Each perched on a stackable plastic chair we took it in turns to stretch and have a walk up and down the corridor. The ensuing days were long and horrific, mums episodes of lucidity were few and far between, for which I am grateful. Finally by the Saturday night we were able to get the drips and syringe drivers removed and were finally transferred in the early hours of Sunday morning to a hospital ward side room where we could sit peacefully with mum while she ebbed away. By this time we were all smelling a little ripe, with greasy hair and crumpled clothes. No matter how exhausted we were we didn’t want to reach the point when we would have to leave.
At precisely 6.41 am on that Sunday morning on the 13th of December, exactly one week since her birthday, she passed away. As she exhaled her last breath (and I swear to you this is no word of a lie) I saw a purple haze lift from mums body and fill the room, I felt a huge sensation of warmth and pressure as if I was being hugged for the very last time, before the haze dissipated and the warmth faded. We all sat with her quietly for about an hour before we could finally say goodbye and leave that room. It was the hardest thing to do, I didn’t want to leave because I knew I could never go back. I think that’s why since then purple has been my favourite colour ~ it makes me think of mum and the feeling of peace it brings.
This year, Tuesday 13th December, marks the seventh anniversary of mum passing. It doesn’t get any easier ~ it doesn’t feel like it’s been seven years ~ I still stretch my hand out to the phone to ring her and then realise she has gone. I think of her always, talk to her sometimes and wonder what she would think of what we are all doing now. But she has left behind her a fabulous legacy.
So to mums legacy
“A legacy leaves behind the story of a person so they are not forgotten. Legacies are important path ways or the future to follow or to be guided by in order make better decisions in life. Leaving behind a legacy gives us comfort in knowing that once we are gone we will not be erased from the memories of others. Legacy is something that a person leaves behind to be remembered by. Legacies are pathways that guide people in decisions with what to do or what not to do.”
I can’t remember a time ever when mum complained about her lot in life, she always saw the fun side, the silver lining, the glass always half full, never half empty. Despite everything she went through she always came back fighting. I think that is why my instinct is always to look for a silver lining within any awful experience. To find something to celebrate, to find something positive within every negative.
Mum was always incredibly active, very sporty playing squash, then tennis and then golf as she became older. She didn’t smoke but liked a tipple or three. She ate a good diet and lived a healthy lifestyle. She took us to ballet and horse riding when we were young because she wanted us to experience what she couldn’t do when she was a child.
She laughed ~ a lot! She was a huge ball of energy that knocked you sideways sometimes. If she wanted to do something then she damn well did it. She would get up on the tables in pubs to dance and encourage others to get up and join her. She was the life and soul of the party, and a little bit naughty and mischievous with it. When she became tired she would just lie down flat on her back to rest ~ she didn’t care what others thought about it, her opinion was if they needed to pass by her then they could just step over her!
On the flip side she could also be immensely feisty and passionately angry ~ I remember every time we left our rooms untidy she would empty all our drawers, wardrobes and bed clothes onto the floor for us to then tidy and clear away. Excessive though it was it did work and we seldom left our rooms in a tip after having to spend an age putting everything back in its place. She didn’t suffer fools.
We were all given jobs too, chores were part of life, whether it be hanging out the laundry, cutting the hedges or picking up dog poo ~ we all had to pull our weight. Mum believed in learning the value of money, of responsibility and felt doing chores and getting holiday jobs was the way to do this.
I also, to my embarrassment, grew up thinking certain words were said in a particular way, only to find out in adulthood that I was pronouncing them incorrectly. Mum had put her stamp on many words in our vocabulary and made them her own ~ developing her own language. She also had the “Cadwaladers” ~ Mr and Mrs to be precise, who were her imaginary friends, often dictating that we had to march around the house, holding hands with knees bent and bums out, with them at the front and us tapering behind, no idea why but always ended in laughter and silliness. None of these things seemed odd at the time, only now, looking back do I realise these are all things that shaped my quirks in character.
I remember mum as a incredibly strong vibrant woman, who lived every moment to the fullest. A woman who would do anything to help others, sometimes brutally honest if asked for her opinon ~ not sure if she understood the meaning of tact, which sometimes got her into hot water. She had a huge heart, was quirky, odd, funny and quite the character. She would make up many poems at the request of her friends for many occasions. We all had one specifically written for us ~ my brothers was titled “Jakey Poo~Boy Taylor”, my sisters “Chlotilda Well and Hearty” and mine was “Tandyway as Anything”. The poems were funny and personal to each of us, she had a real talent and should have made a book of them but never did. She did however pen a children’s story called “Timmy the Tadpole” which I have in my filing cabinet, waiting to be illustrated by Tasha and then I will have copies printed to give to all mums grandchildren in her memory.
My girls remember her as a strong woman who loved them unconditionally, who was sometimes way too honest which could be harsh, but a person you could trust with anything. All secrets were held safe with her. She was a second mum to them, she took unpaid leave to help me care for them when they were young and I was in and out of hospital with one or other of the girls. Dave was having to work away from home to keep the bills paid, so mum stepped into the breech so to speak, being there was an enormous help. She took them on holidays, always teaching them, even when having fun. The school teacher in her made everything a fun learning opportunity which the girls adored. Each and every grandchild that came along was showered with her love, I just wish they could have had longer with her. When mum was living in the hospital, Tasha made her a rag doll called “Marmite”, so that she had something with her to remind her of them. Mum’s sense of humour meant that poor Marmite was being put into many rude poses around the hospital room to keep the nurses and doctors amused. We wanted to keep Marmite when mum passed, she was with her right to the end ~ but because of the C. Diff we were told it would be impossible to remove the spores and so Marmite went on the final journey with mum and was cremated with her held in mums arms.
She insisted I always call her “mummy”, she would become selectively deaf if I tried the “mum” or “Rita” approach ~ so even as a mother myself, when in public if I needed to call her over I had to say “Mummy”. She loved that ~ it made her laugh, that’s why I think she did it. The girls called her “Grandma Twinkles” because she loved her diamonds, so many diamonds on her fingers, in her ears and round her neck ~ she loved the way they twinkled and you could never buy her too many, so it’s a name for her that stuck.
But most of all my mum cared for me, giving me support, advice, help and valuable respite when I needed it most. Her final gift to us was for her to look after the girls for us so that Dave and I could go away to America for his 40th birthday. We had the most amazing holiday and were not anxious about the girls because we knew mum had them, that they would be occupied, safe and happy in our absence. That was the final time she was well enough to do this for us, the following year her health took a massive dive, it was the start of the final relapse.
I had a huge love hate relationship with mum, especially in my teen years. Yet once I became a mum myself the dynamic changed, we argued less and started to rely more and more on each other. We saw each other daily when I lived in Lincolnshire, but when we moved to Derby we still ensured we saw each other at least once a fortnight and spoke daily, sometimes multiple times, on the phone. She was my best friend and confident. I sought her opinion on many occasions and in turn she also sought mine. I think the most precious gift she gave me was her time, we would sit and chat for hours, about everything, nothing was taboo. We put all our past grievances to bed and spoke about her death and what to do in great depth. I can put my hand on my heart and say that I feel at peace knowing that I have nothing left unsaid. That is a huge gift in itself.
Whenever I am down I talk to her, I ask for signs as her way of giving me advice, and they usually come. I have dreams about her when I need . Also sensations of that warmth I received on that final Sunday, a hug from the other side, when I am most despondent and blue.
Mum has left behind a wonderful legacy, one that has shaped how we; my girls, Dave and I, respond to situations that befall us. During our low moments, our episodes of ill health, we remember her strength and humour and do our best to live up to the standard she set. It was noted on many occasions during our “family therapy” sessions (to help us cope and come to terms with illness and issues beyond our control), that our family was pretty unique in the way we used laughter as a means of coping and communication, that we all gave each other the permission to be vocal about their thoughts and were respectful of each others differing views. That has stuck with me and feel very strongly that it was mums strength and laughter that shaped our family dynamic.
I’ll leave you now with some photos, here are a few of me with mum ~ everyone said we look very alike, now I find myself looking into the mirror and see mum staring back at me in my own reflection…
Mum and Dad on their wedding day…
Mum liked to dress up on the odd occasion too…
Then there were the times when she would just be out enjoying life…
Mum was a wonderful woman who makes me laugh and cry in equal measure whenever I think of her…
We tried to spend every Christmas together, either at their house or ours, this last one in 2008 was held at our house in Derby. It was the January of 2009 that mums health started to decline. That last Christmas together was full of so much laughter and joy, we had no idea what was coming…
I even have photographic evidence of her lying having a “rest” at a party in the hotel corridor!..
We had a celebration of mums life on the 4th of January 2010, the girls carried on mums poetic tradition by penning two poems which they read during the ceremony. She would have been so proud of them…
Mum, although you are no longer physically with me, I know you are there. I see you in my reflection and in the girls. You have shaped our lives to look towards the positive, to not give up and to always push forward no matter what the obstacles. That is your legacy to us.
Thank you mum for the good times, the laughter, the silliness and the joy you gave us, I love this photo of us mostly because it encapsulates our relationship perfectly.