Well, that happened to me this week and I can tell you, though it was wholly justified, it's fair thrown me.
It all began with a phone call from the nursing home on Sunday night. Mum had had a fall and they were just letting us know: she was alright, a bit confused but nothing to worry about. To put you in the picture, my mum has dementia. Not the all-out don't-know-who-you-are type, but enough not be able to live independently anymore.
I had a bad feeling about that call, but went to work as per on Monday. Half way through the morning, my mobile rang. Mum was very ill and they thought I should come. So I downed tools and legged it across Leeds to the train station, where my sister Lu picked me up at the other end and we floored it to mum. She looked dreadful. But Lu, having been a nurse, believed they'd acted too soon.
The Doctor who came to check mum out was the same one who'd confirmed dad's death less than four months ago. He was wearing the same black suit and sympathetic smile. He was as kind as he could be and put mum at ease, prescribing strong antibiotics and a large dose of 'let's see what the next twenty four hours bring'. But I just wanted him to stop talking, to go away, for this whole scenario not to be real.
I went back to work the next day – another phone call. This time, when I pressed them "Is she dying? Do I need to be there now?" The reply was "I'm telling you she's very bad – we think she could be". I put the phone down and swore a lot in disbelief. The girls rallied, filled in, got me out of the building and on my way.
I've realized there's a look on nurses faces which tells you everything you need to know within two paces. Before I reached mum's room the receptionist, the on-call nurse, the cleaner and the chef had all, with their body language, let me know things were not good at all.
And when I saw mum, she had that same look dad had about twenty four hours before he passed away. It's in the eyes. Sort of cloudy, half opened. The mouth and teeth – dry. Hollow cheeks, sallow almost waxy skin and barely a flinch when you pick up their hand.
I sat there, holding mum's hand – I positioned myself with chairs and cushions so we were both comfortable. I leaned in and told her how much I loved her and stroked her forehead. I'd done this with dad just twelve weeks ago and he squeezed my hand back ever so gently. This time, there was barely a twitch.
I tried not to cry. But I sent my pal Annette a text and the reality of the words broke me. I was silent but my stomach hurt with the effort of keeping it together. It was the sort of cry where you catch your breath and keep shaking your head in disbelief. When the tears feel really fat and you almost don't want to wipe them away because you can't believe their size. When Annette arrived, we went into the corridor and I sobbed properly - noisily and snottily.
The nurses told us one or two days. They suggested, as a courtesy, we call the undertaker. I heard them talking to each other about having a 'golden box' ready. Words like 'fast tracking' were being thrown around. Mum's friends arrived and talked about her giving up now that dad had gone, how they'd always thought she wouldn't be long after him. The nurses said "it happens". She was being talked about in the past tense and I wasn't ready. I'd just, just
got used to having one parent.
Did I go home and worry about not being there in the final stages? Or did I drive myself mad by staying and watching mum fade away? I had a husband and children at home and wanted to be with them but I felt torn. And do you know what? I felt guilty that I wasn’t at work! Even though I'd been told categorically not to come back. They're a great bunch at the BBC. Say what you want about license fees and temporary contracts; to me, they've been fantastic throughout my one-parent-dead-another-on-her-way scenario.
But amazingly, mum is still with us. She's rallied. The men and women in white coats say it's a chest infection – which could worsen due to her age. Which makes me think pneumonia. The antibiotics don't seem to be working though. Mum explained to them today "It feels like there's a wall in my lung". They say she's very poorly and have hinted at something else
going on. Nobody, apart from my sister, has dared to mention the word tumour.
So it's Friday night and instead of my planned evening on the vino collapso with my old school pals, I'm in my pyjamas, sober, about to turn in. It really is truly exhausting.
All I can think is how much longer has she got? It all sounds so dramatic, I know. If my siblings and friends hadn't been there to witness it, I'd be starting to think I'd exaggerated the whole thing in my head. I'd be giving myself a stern dressing down about creating a drama out of crisis. But no. This has actually happened this week.
So excuse me for sloppy grammar, the odd spelling and dodgy punctuation but I have written this as I felt it - in the hope that by getting it out of my head it might lighten my heart and help me sleep.
I will keep you posted. Night night.