January 17, 2014

Mabel died a few days ago and will be buried the day after tomorrow. I’m making time in the middle of this busy, emotional week to write about what happened on Sunday. Thankfully, I made a few notes.

On Wednesday, January 8th it was Mum’s 89th birthday. She had her eyes open and was more awake than she’d been for a couple of weeks. So when the carers and the cook came in with her birthday cake it wasn’t as incongruous a scene as it might have been. Of course not, each of them has invested time and energy in looking after her.


Unable to take Mum out in the car with us, each day I was taking Ian to the home so that he could spend the afternoon at her bedside. Ian would hold Mabel’s hand and sing to her. Often his head would be on the bed. Sad? Yes, it was a sad sight. Usually I left them alone together and came back for Dad later.

On the 10th I took Dad to see Mum in the afternoon and went up myself in the evening. She had stopped taking in any significant amount of liquid or liquefied food. The senior could get her to take tiny amounts of liquid and they were keeping her mouth moist, but any more than a few milli-litres going down her throat would have choked her. She was lying on her back with her eyes open when I got there. I felt we had strong eye contact and I didn’t try and hold back my grief. I wanted her to see that I thought she was dying and how that made me feel. Her face didn’t change its expression. A single tear rolled down her face from the middle of her right eye. Perhaps she felt sorry for the distressed, red-faced creature she saw in front of her.


On Jan 11th Ian saw Mabel without her teeth. But he was completely all right with that, as I should have known he would be. Mum was lying on her back with her mouth open breathing fairly heavily through her mouth. I went back in the evening and was chatting to a carer, Tina, who had known Mabel for about fifteen years, since the time Mum had regularly visited her sister, Jean, at a nearby care home where Tina used to work. It was reassuring to know that there was someone looking after Mabel at night who had known her for a good while, had a conception of who she’d been and a loyalty to her.

On the morning of the 12th, a friend told me that one of the last things to go when someone is dying is their hearing. I passed on this information to Ian, and when we visited Mabel in the afternoon I put her hearing aids in as usual and we both made a special effort to say things. How much we loved her. How much we owed her. Ian told Mabel he would be seeing her again in the next world. We both wept.

I meant to go back in mid-evening but instead got engrossed in
Sherlock. At 10pm the program (which included a brilliant scene showing how to cheat death) finished, and I went up to the home. The three carers that make up the nightshift were changing Mabel, and I was asked to give them a few minutes. When Tina came to find me later, she said that Mabel was having circulation problems. What did she mean? Blood was accumulating in her legs because the heart was struggling to pump it around her body. I mentioned to Tina that the senior, who has been very supportive, had said that Mabel was likely to live for a week or so longer, because her heart was strong. Tina shook her head sadly, she was sure it wouldn’t be as long as that, but could say no more.

I went into the room. Mum was lying as she had been in the afternoon - on her back with her mouth open - looking very frail. Her breathing was slightly more laboured than before, there was something of a rattle in the sound of it. Her face was pale but slightly reddened around the eyes. I thought she was aware, but couldn’t be sure. Anyway, I put a hearing aid in to her left ear and I talked to her. I told her how loved she was by Ian, me and my brother. I swopped some pictures around so that those she was looking towards were the more personal ones, photos of her immediate family.

Her breath caught a couple of times so that I was afraid that she would stop breathing. I kissed her forehead and stroked her cheek, taking care not to interfere with her breathing. I told her what a huge and wonderful place the universe was. I wet her mouth and for a few seconds her lips closed on the piece of sponge soaked in pineapple juice.

I sat down on the seat at the bottom of the bed. I was conscious of how peaceful it was in the room. ‘Duncan’s here,’ I said calmly. ‘I love you,’ I added a little later. Just after that I thought Mabel might have stopped breathing. But I didn’t rush to find out; I didn’t want to disturb her. I sat there in the peace and the silence for a few minutes, occasionally saying something reassuring.

And that was it. Five minutes later I had to accept that Mum had slipped away. After a surge of sadness I was clenching my hands into fists and celebrating the fact that Mum’s death had been almost painless (she had been on liquid paracetamol, but more to keep her temperature down when she had a fever than for pain control). Moreover, her death had been relatively quick and seemingly peaceful. I was so proud of Mum for making such an apparently good job of her own dying.

She passed away at 10.40pm on Sunday, January 12. At home that night I phoned my brother in Manchester and told John how peacefully our mother had died. But I left it until the morning to tell Dad, waiting until he’d had his breakfast to tell him the superficially sad but fundamentally satisfying news.

Things have been busy since, with funeral directors, solicitors, celebrants, letters, flowers, emails and phone calls of condolence. Something is supposed to be happening at Perth Crematorium at 10.30 on Monday morning. But something really did happen at 10.40 last Sunday evening.

Goodbye, Mum. Let it R.I.P.

That is a raw account of what’s taken place. As time goes on, other perspectives will no doubt come to mind that I will try and share. But I wanted to set this out in a straightforward way in case it has any value to others.