Mother died today. Or yesterday. I don’t know.
OK, I do know. She died at 12.50 this morning. She went as peacefully as you can imagine, fast asleep. I was sleeping next to her, on a mattress topper she used to use, by her bed in the little bedroom she had slept in most nights for several years.
(It wasn’t her favourite bedroom. That was the green room, at the back of the house, which is large enough for a double bed. But she used to sleep in the yellow room because the green room was full of boxes of her disorganised belongings. When she returned after two days in hospital last week, having been treated for high calcium levels which could have killed her, we set up her hospital bed in the yellow room so my sister and her husband and baby could have the green room.)
I wasn’t even sure she had gone at first. I woke a little while before and noticed her breathing pattern had changed – she was breathing more slowly, and either more deeply or more shallowly – i can’t remember which, but it was definitely different. I thought about waking my brother and sister, but I knew they’d be reluctant to get up for a false alarm – we’d had a couple of those already. Then a few minutes later I heard a light rattling in her breath. I looked and she wasn’t breathing. I called my brother and said, “I think she’s going.” I went back in and thought I heard her exhale. But I think it was just the last few gasps of air escaping. She was gone. I woke my sister. We were all very calm.
It’s easy at times like this to fall back on platitudes about fate. But I genuinely think everything was as it should be – as much as it could be. We were all with her, in the house, and I know that she knew that and it was a relief to her. She became very agitated this afternoon and asked for my brother and sister, who were out, my brother at his own house and my sister out walking with her baby. I called them and asked them to come, thinking she might be ready to go. She wasn’t, just yet, but she was very relieved when they came, I could tell. In the evening, as she knew we were there, her breathing relaxed and she became incredibly peaceful.
Everything pointed to it being the right time for her to go. We had spent time with her, last morning and afternoon, sitting and talking to her and singing to her. Once, last morning, she began to sing along, in her weak half-concious way, to “Kum Bah Yah”. Had she gone Sunday night, I wouldn’t truly have felt we had spent the time together to say goodbye, as a family, that we should have done. But tonight I knew, as I laid myself down to sleep, that if she went there would be nothing we had left undone.
As I write, her body is still as soft as ever. She had – has, for a few more hours – the softest skin of anyone I’ve ever known. Even as her body was ravaged by radiotherapy and drained by chemotherapy, her face and arms remained beautifully soft and gentle, her embrace full of reassurance and love. Strangely, I think it’s her body I will miss most as a direct result of her death. Her personality, her friendship, have been slipping away for some time.
I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have an urge that maybe I should go away for a while. I want to drink grappa in Italy, and dark beer in Munich. But there’s months of sorting out of the house and the money before I can do that. I just know I don’t want my life to drift along. Something has to come of this. Something has to change – my life has to improve for me to be able to survive this without becoming depressed, I think.
This is a blog* about sleep.
It’s become obvious that I really, really don’t get enough. I mean, nobody gets enough, obviously. But I’m a bit shocked at how much of a difference it seems to make to me. A few weeks ago I thought I’d try getting up at seven every day – as opposed to eight or, quite often, nine. I was supposed to go to bed at eleven every night. This, predictably, didn’t happen. As usual I was up till 1am every day smoking and watching terrible US sitcoms (these are things I only do after 11pm). I was getting six hours’ sleep a night. Plenty of people I know live on this – most I know can make do quite happily on it.
I was a fucking wreck. I swear. I couldn’t focus at all at work, on anything. I seemed to spend the whole day either getting a drink, having a piss, or popping onto the internet to just quickly look at something for four hours. In the evening, I just sort of stared gormlessly at the TV. I couldn’t even make conversation, my mind just kept drifting. And I just wanted to eat shit all the time. This is particularly problematic, given that I’m supposed to be losing nearly five stone at some point in my ever-passing life.
Then after a week, having got some nasty run-down-cold-thing, I slept for about ten hours. And the next day at work I was shocked – literally stunned – how much better I felt. I could work. I could think. I could talk. I could concentrate on one thing for more than, I don’t know, 30 seconds. And I actually quite fancied eating real food. Salad, even. Not because it’s good for me or anything like that. But because i just fancied real food. Just like that. amazing. especially amazing given that I never want real food.
So this is when I realised: I actually have basically been tired for the last ten years, at least. And if I want to sort out my eating, my productivity, and all the other crap I complain about all the time, I need to fix this first. I need to get eight hours’ sleep a night, barring increasingly rare parties.
But how? Obviously, go to bed earlier. But the problem is: when the time to come to bed comes, I nevr, ever, feel tired. Maybe I am tired, but I don’t bloody feel it. I have literally found myself lying in bed, fiddling with my mobile, thinking, “I’m not tired. Why aren’t I tired?” then just fallen asleep seconds later.
Obviously the answer to this is, well, obvious: just be in bed at midnight (I’ve reverted, chastened, to 8am) every day, without fail, including weekends unless I’m actually out socialising (I’ve always believed that if it’s the weekend, you’re legally obliged to stay up to at least 2am watching shit on the TV, just because you can). But at 11pm, when I start thinking about going to bed, I’m gripped by this panic. The day can’t be over already, I think. What about all the made-up tasks I’m worrting about not having done? In the morning I’ll have to go to work! I’d quite like to put that off as long as possible, please.
This is basically where I’m up to. I’ll just have to try to keep forcing myself to go to bed early. Why don’t you, my largely imaginary readers, leave me lovely encouraging comments?
* Now, I say “blog”. Obviously, this isn’t a blog about sleep. It’s a blog post about sleep. The blog itself is, of course, about more than that. A blog just about sleep sounds fairly boring, although, glory be to the internet, such a thing exists. I’m using the word “blog” to refer to a blog post. You know, like when myspace tell you to “post a new blog”. This is, obviously, retarded and wrong. So why the hell am I doing it? Good question. “This is a blog post about sleep” just didn’t have the same ring to it.
It’s become obvious that mum has only weeks to live.
We were told only last week that not only had the chemotherapy failed to reduce the cancer, but it had spread to her liver. Since then she’s seemed more tired daily.
Today I spoke to her on the phone and I was taken aback by how out of it she seemed. She was talking about a meeting she’d had with a solicitor yesterday about some documents we’re looking for. I then mentioned a delivery she’d recently received that arrived broken and that I’d emailed to arrange a return. She got the two completely confused, going on about how waiting for the refund would help the solicitor with his search. I said, softly, that I thought she was getting the two confused. “Oh god, you’re right,” she said. “I never know what’s going on any more. Ask me what day it is.” “What day is it?” I asked. “Ah, see, I know today! I’ve already been asked twice! It’s Thursday!”
It’s Wednesday, of course. Apparently she’s better in person – my brother went round an hour or so later and says she seemed much better, though he’s one of those men who can make a woman be exactly the way he thinks they are. But my sister later confirmed on the phone that she’s sleeping a little more each day, a little less in touch with reality each day while she’s awake. She eats incredibly small amounts. Soon, my sister reckons, she’ll stop eating altogether.
The strange thing is that I’m not more terrified now about losing my mother than I was a few days ago. I’m terrified that I already have.
I’ve realised I’m losing two people. I’m losing my mother – the one person in the world who I know wants desperately for me to be happy. The one person who’s always rooting for me, always reminding me that it’s OK to laugh and enjoy life, not just always be worrying about some imagined problem or fretting about some invented task. The one person who I could have gone to with any problem, no matter how ashamed or tortured I was about of it, and who would have listened, not judging, not laughing about it with their friends afterwards. Not that I took much advantage of it.
But I knew that already. I’ve mourned that already, though I’m sure I’ve got more to go. What I realise now is that I’m also losing – have already, to be honest, lost – my mother, the woman. Who is – I always say most clichés are clichés because they’re true – my best friend.
I can’t think of anyone in the world who I could talk to, for hours, as easily as I do with my mum. Never trying to impress, never worrying how I’m coming across. And now that’s soon going to be over. Maybe it already is over. She can’t talk for hours now. I find myself sitting in awkward silence with her, for the first time ever, because she doesn’t ask the questions, make the responses she used to.
I think I’m only appreciating now, for the first time, how intelligent she is. Was. Is. I don’t know. She was educated, but more, she was unashamedly intelligent in a way it just seems people aren’t now. She studied Latin at school, for god’s sake. She didn’t know the derivations of all the words I asked her about, but she’d bloody well look them up. She wasn’t ashamed of being educated, like baby boomers all seem to be.
She was elegant. Not in the skinny, uptight sense. She just knew clothes. She knew style. She had an in-built sense for aesthetics. I went shopping with her once a couple of years ago. God, we had so much fun. And now I see her in her pink cupcake pyjamas, an oasis of class in this shitty ugly cheap world I seem to be stuck in.
I don’t know – I honestly don’t know – who I can just read the paper and talk about it with now. Or listen to music or discuss politics or philosophy or anything without it being a competition. I try to talk about these things with my other, male best friend, but it always seems to turn into a competition. With men, this stuff is all about egos. And the women I know are mostly trained not to talk about it in public. Or they just don’t want to. I feel like everyone else I know my age either is an idiot, or is trying desperately to be one. I’ve felt like this all my life; god, isn’t it time that stopped being true?