We sing along to songs on the radio about drugs and sex, watch all kinds of things on tv. Yet there are still things society tends not to talk about and poo is one of them, so is death and dying.
Once you start dealing with both chronic and acute illness, serious pain relief, and the slow process of dying you realise there’s nothing sacred any more. Ever asked your significant other if it’s taking them ages to pee? Checked if they badly constipated again? Or cleaned up a poo puddle because the meds went too far the other way?
At the start of a relationship it’s all sweet words and date nights. Lovely! Then something happens and you’re dealing with medical issues. Over the years both Tony and I’ve had serious health stuff happen, and we’ve both done the nursing.
Now it’s my time to nurse him, and some days it’s hard. Really hard. But, after nearly 30 years, we can talk about poo, pain, death and dying. Fun? No, yet it’s also ok. The conversations matter, and sometimes there are tears, but I’d rather we talked than I had to guess. I just wish more people talked about the hard stuff.
Yesterday I visited someone who I had been fond of; a strong, sweet, determined woman. We’d been tangentially related by marriage for a time (too complicated, let’s not go there – and not my story to tell). I visited as part of seeing some relatives. Today she passed away in that sudden-but-not-totally-unexpected way the 90+ sometimes do.
She was, I think, the last of her generation in that family, and certainly mine. Mum and Dad had me at 40, so I sit between generations. All the same, when Mum died 6 years ago I became, at 48, one of the older generation in my family. A history keeper, story teller, someone meant to remember all the threads and be able to tie them together.
It’s not a role I felt ready for then, nor do I now. I love scrapbooking so I’m a history keeper and story-teller in that sense. But the “who used to live where” and what was great Uncle Whatsit’s son called?” is beyond me. I’m not good with genealogy or remembering how distant relatives tie in. If, in 40 years’ time, I’m the old lady in the rest home and my great-nieces and great-nephews come looking for answers, I hope Google is ready – because I won’t be…
Shirley – Mum and Dad were very fond of you. You were always kind to me, and welcoming. Rest well.
Mum was born on 30 June 1924 at Bethany Home in Auckland, and stayed with her mother till she has a toddler. We don’t know why her mother, Angela, eventually had to give her up. I wish we had met her, she sounds such a character. We are fortunate to know Angela through her son John (Mum’s half-brother) and his family.
Mum would have been 94 today, not an age she had any great desire to get to. Mum didn’t romanticize old age; she talked about it being hard work and used to say that Dad, who died suddenly at 65 while out fishing, “got it exactly right, but a decade too soon”. When Mum died in 2012 she was ready to leave this earth, and we let her go with love.
Mum shared her birth date with John’s ex-wife Liz – birthday twins, as I called them. So happy birthday Liz. I’m sure Mum is watching over us all.
Happy birthday Mum – you are loved and missed, but released with love too.
As many of you know, until May of this year my Mum was being cared for at home by Tony and I, and had been for 14 years. She had a stroke and decided to go into a rest-home as she no longer felt safe alone when we were at work. In the months since her health has got progressively worse, despite the wonderful care she has been receiving. Her kidney and heart problems were reaching end stage.
Mum spent 3 weeks in hospital recently and we decided, along with medical staff, that Mum would return to the rest-home and never go back to hospital. If she got sick we would use comfort care only, and if she got an infection such as pneumonia we would not treat it. Mum had simply got too sick.
Friday last week her health deteriorated rapidly overnight and the palliative care nurse was called in. We got to the home at 10am and basically never left again. We had a quite rough afternoon and evening but by midnight Friday she was comfortable. I went home for 3 hours sleep, and Ailsa went for off for a bit when I got back.
Ailsa and her family were down because we had already planned an early family Christmas, so both Ailsa and I and our husbands, and most of her grandchildren were able to spend time with her. The rest-home manager, Judy, sat with Mum for an hour while we had Christmas lunch – Judy said Mum would be proud of us for doing the family thing for her.
Mum slept all afternoon with us stroking her hands and hair, and talking to her. She passed away peacefully late afternoon Saturday with Ailsa, Tony and I right with her.
I am glad she found the peace she needed to be able to let go and join Dad. I will miss her terribly but I am grateful she is no longer in pain.
I want to share some of the things I wrote to say at the funeral: I ended up only saying part of it, for various reasons, so here it is:
In the 14 years ago Tony and I looked after Mum the Hawera ED staff got to know us on a first name basis… We’ve had amazing care from medical and ambulance staff over the years. On Mum’s behalf, I have to say a special thanks to Dr Bok and ICU Nurse Simon – she remembered you both right to the end.
My sister Ailsa has provided endless support, coming down from Auckland most months. She’s been the patient recipient of many “hey, we’re just off to ED” phone calls, providing support, and a sounding board. In turn, she could not have done it without the endless support of Jim and their children.
Finally my husband Tony. We’d only been married 3 years when Mum got sick; for most of the years we have been together we’ve been caring for Mum. You haven’t just used your ambulance skills with Mum, you’ve been patient and kind; you made her laugh and taught her to do the fingers! You’ve supported me when I had to make difficult choices and never once suggested a particular path just to make life easier for yourself. Those things are part of the reason I love you; thank you for having taken this journey with me.
I have worked full-time throughout the years Mum’s been sick. Sometimes, particularly when Mum was very sick and I was truly nursing her – feeding her, dressing her, tucking her into bed at night –people have asked if I was tired or whatever. Yes, I was; tired as all hell sometimes. But few daughters get to spend the quality time with their ageing mother that I have had, and, as I have written on her coffin, the journey with Mum was worth every second.