Hello lovely readers
I hope you’re all well and will forgive me for my extended absence on these pretty pink pages, and for the length of this blog. When you read it, I’m hoping you’ll understand.
Saturday, January 26th 2013 is a day I will never forget. Not because The Domestic Prince’s team in The Oxfam Trailwalker romped home in a spectacular 19 hours and 40 minutes. Nor was it because The Domestic Prince had thoroughly spoilt me on my birthday (incidentally, as he always does, he did with a fabulous pair of shoes I’d been coveting for quite some time). No, it was the result of a telephone call I received at 4am. One, if I’m honest, that I’d been expecting for sometime, yet obviously had never wanted to receive. My Mum’s cousin called to tell me that Mum had fallen and was in hospital. I immediately knew this was serious, as I’ve never received a ‘phone call from him. My mind was racing….he couldn’t give me any details, apart from it was serious and she was being transferred from her local hospital to ICU at The University Hospital of Wales (UHW).
I called The Domestic King hoping he would be able to give me some more information. I was wishing with all my might that my Mum’s cousin had been exaggerating, or had somehow got it wrong; the words ICU are petrifying to hear. The first time I tried The Domestic King it went to voicemail. I tried a few minutes later and he answered, confirming exactly what her cousin had said. He’d just come in from dinner out with The Grandads (our affectionate term for Dad’s terrific friends), but was heading straight to the hospital to meet The Domestic Queen’s brother and sister-in law. The Domestic King filled me in on what he knew: Mum’s lovely neighbour, Sandra, hadn’t seen her all day (which was unusual) on 25th January and at around 5pm, the blinds in her house were all still down, which was out of the norm. Sandra called Waitrose, as she knew Mum was due a delivery on the 25th, to see if they’d been able to make their grocery delivery, which they hadn’t….This only compounded her feeling that something was wrong. She called the police, who came very quickly. They tried the back door, only to find it open, but with the safety catch on. They forced an entry and found Mum lying, unconscious at the bottom of the stairs, with her loyal little Ben (possibly the cutest dog in the world) sat next to her. The police quickly called an ambulance and she was taken to the local hospital.
The local hospital deemed Mum’s head injuries to be too severe for them to deal with and thus arranged for her to be transferred to the ICU at UHW. Hearing this story was like a physical blow to my stomach. I had so many questions…how had it happened? How long had she been lying there? Where on her head were her injuries? Had she had a stroke, which caused her to fall? Had she broken any bones? And probably the most important one…what was her prognosis? Dad, in his usual calm way, explained he couldn’t answer all my questions, but that she’d had a severe head injury, UHW were doing all they could to help her, and that he’d call me later to give me an update after he’d been to see her and spoken with the doctors.
I spent the morning in a daze; numb and not really fully comprehending what had happened. The Domestic Prince tried super hard to make my birthday lovely, but nothing he did could distract me from what was happening with Mum. The Domestic King called a few hours later to give me an update. It was not good news. That’s an understatement. It was the worst news you could receive about a loved one. The Domestic Queen had suffered a devastating head injury, cracking her skull in two places and causing two bleeds on the brain. The doctors asked whether we wanted them to operate to relieve the pressure in her brain, which might help with the swelling, but wouldn’t change the fact that even if she were to survive, she would be a quadriplegic with severe brain damage. My Mum was sparkly, lively and had an effervescence about her, she wouldn’t have wanted to live out the rest of her life in that way. So, I made the ever so difficult decision not to have the doctors operate on her. The doctors assured Dad that they’d do everything they could to keep her alive, whilst I made the 5,000 mile trip back from India, to effectively say goodbye.
The next couple of days whilst we got ourselves organised and on a flight, were filled full of anxiety. Too often these days, people say they’re devastated. But, I was. Every time my ‘phone went, I thought it was The Domestic King telling me she’d slipped away. The flight back to the UK was agonising – filled with too many glasses of wine, in an attempt to numb the pain. I’ve never run through T5 like I did that day. The Universe was being kind, as our bags came out in record time and we dashed through customs to find The Domestic King waiting for us. Even though, they were divorced, it was still a distressing time for Dad, and he looked wrung out. The journey back to Wales was the fastest I’ve ever seen him drive. It felt like we were up against the clock, which I guess we were. We arrived at UHW in record time and hot-footed it to ICU.
I was taken straight in to see her. I wasn’t shocked at how she looked, as I’d asked my friend Mr Google what to expect of a head trauma patient in a coma. She looked peaceful and thankfully there wasn’t any visible signs of her injuries. The nurses looking after her that evening couldn’t have been kinder to me. They spent time telling me about her injuries, explaining what they were doing to look after her and what all the different machines she was hooked up to were doing. I clambered on the bed with her and talked, held her hands and stroked her head for hours, just like she used to, to me when I was little. I only left her side for about half an hour to meet with the doctor and the specialist nurse for organ donation.
The doctor confirmed that since Mum was not responding to the reflex tests that she was brain-stem dead, was being kept alive by a machine, and that there was nothing that could be done. Although The Domestic Queen had elected to be an organ donor, they still have to confirm with the next of kin that you’re happy for the deceased organs to be donated. I obviously was very happy for this to happen, at least some good would hopefully come from this nightmare. Before they could retrieve her organs, she had to be officially declared brain-stem dead. They explained that would happen the next day, when two independent doctors, separately, would carry out a set of tests to confirm brain-stem death, but in the meantime they would keep her “alive”, so that the organs could still be retrieved. As part of the organ donation process, you have to fill in quite a few forms and answer some pretty personal questions about the deceased. The specialist nurse couldn’t have handled these difficult questions more sensitively. As soon as I was finished, I went back and snuggled back on the bed. I’m not sure if she could hear me, as none of her reflexes were responding, but I hope she did. Soon it was time to go and for me to say my final goodbye. Leaving the UHW that night was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
The next few days passed in a blur. Meeting with the funeral director, hearing that she’d been officially declared brain-stem dead, learning that her organs had helped others, speaking with the coroners office and one of the toughest things, going to her house.
We were finally able to have her funeral on 12th February, which was an incredibly difficult day. I couldn’t stomach eating anything before the service and was shaking like a leaf. It was the service she would have wanted, in fact some of the music that played, she’d actually chosen. I was touched, and she would have been too, by the number of people who had turned-up to say goodbye and to celebrate her life. And from a personal perspective, it was wonderful to hear stories about her that I’d never heard.
How I am feeling / doing?
Well, unsurprisingly, still very sad and shell-shocked that everything that has happened, happened. It’s been nearly 4 weeks since The Domestic Queen’s life support was switched off. The pain I feel deep inside is still there and it’s an actual physical pain – I always thought this was a load of baloney – but trust me, it’s not. Tears are never far from the surface. First thing in the morning and last thing at night are probably the hardest parts of my day. I wake-up everyday and am smacked by the realisation that my beautiful Mum has gone. And last thing at night whilst trying to drop off to sleep, I lie there with her invading every thought. At the moment all my memories and images of her are ones of her lying in the hospital, or the recent years when she wasn’t her vibrant self; I’ve been assured that these will diminish and the good ones will come to the fore in time – I hope this is true.
I can’t believe she’s gone and that I’ll never see or speak to her again. It all feels decidedly surreal. I’ll sometimes go to call her to check on her, or ask what she’d like in her Waitrose shop this week, or most bizarrely, to ask questions about some of her furniture, or what she thinks I should do about various things concerning the admin surrounding her death. The mind can be so cruel.
I’m struggling with so many thoughts and emotions: not knowing how it happened, the thought of her lying on her own for goodness knows how long, and the fact that she probably couldn’t hear all the things I said to her in my last, insufficient hours with her.
The guilt I’m wracked with regarding our fractious relationship in the last few years is probably the one that causes some of my darkest moments. I want to tell her I’m sorry, to thank her for all that she did for me, and that I only nagged her about the things I did because I didn’t want her to come to any harm. But most of all, despite everything, that I loved her so very, very much. I rarely have regrets, but I deeply regret how I was impatient and tough with her about silly things. I’m extremely ashamed. The Domestic Prince and King keep reminding me that she wasn’t the Mum I knew, and that everything I did and said, were for her own good; yet still I’m plagued with guilt and regret.
And still on the feeling of guilt, I feel exceedingly guilty if for a fleeting moment I forget what’s happened and laugh at something. I know this is normal, life does go on, but it feels wrong.
I’m also an angst-ridden Domestic Princess. Every time I say goodbye to The Domestic Prince or King, or they get in the car, or the ‘phone rings, a wave of fear grips me that it’ll be the last time I see them, or it’s a call to say there’s been an accident. Irrational and neurotic? Probably. A normal reaction to what’s happened? From what I’ve been reading about losing somebody close to you, highly likely.
From being the world’s best sleeper, I’m now one of the worst, and have probably taken my quota of Nytol for the whole year. I dread to think how much less sleep I’d be getting at the moment without my Deep Sleep app.
What I’ve learnt
- Everybody should seriously consider becoming an organ donor. In fact, there is talk in the UK that it’s going to become an “opt-out” scheme instead of an “opt-in” one. Kindness was the cornerstone of The Domestic Queen’s personality. By being an organ donor, her tragic passing helped to save the lives of three individuals – one of them a 19 year old girl who would have died without Mum’s liver. A pretty amazing display of kindness and an incredible gift in my opinion.
- I’ll never find out what happened, and actually it doesn’t matter. It’s not going to help me, or bring her back, even if I did find out. In fact, knowing the details of what happened might even make it worse.
- That you don’t have to have physically met your friends, for them to be friends. Some of the loveliest, kindest messages of support I received during these last few horrific weeks, have been from people I’ve never met in the flesh. In fact, my friends that I’ve met through social media have shown more concern and thought than some of the people I actually know in the flesh.
- Try to treat the special people in your life with as much care, kindness, love and respect as you can. I know this is unrealistic in everyday life. However, losing The Domestic Queen has made me more cognisant of my behaviour to the people who mean the most to me.
- The Domestic Prince and King are even more remarkable human beings than I had initially thought. A crisis can really show the true character of someone.
- Any injuries to the head should be treated very seriously. Even if one feels ok, get checked out by a medical professional.
- The medical team at the ICU at UHW are some of the most amazing doctors and nurses I’ve ever witnessed in action. The care and attention they showed Mum were wonderful and so comforting to see. Regardless of the fact that she was technically dead, and was only “alive” through artificial means, they treated her with the utmost respect. The NHS has its flaws, but on this occasion I couldn’t fault them at all.
- Life really is short. I’m not advocating or suggesting you live everyday as if it were your last, that wouldn’t be viable and quite probably, not practical. But if you fancy that bar of chocolate, or a glass of wine mid-week, or a weekend away, then if you have the means, GO FOR IT. You’re a long-time dead.
- However horrendous her passing has been, the outlook in terms of The Domestic Queen’s health was not going to be a good one. In my ‘phone calls to her since my visit in December, I noticed a marked deterioration in her, which was confirmed by her friends and neighbours when I saw them. She herself, had voiced concerns about her mind and was a shadow of the old Mum I adored. So, whilst her falling was a terrible, awful accident – the doctors have assured me she wouldn’t have felt or been in pain – thinking about this pragmatically, it is probably better she went in the way she did, rather than a slow demise, where she would have lost all her dignity.
- Take more photos. It doesn’t matter if you’re not catwalk ready, it’s about capturing memories. Just like me, Mum was not a huge fan of having her photo taken, which means I have very few photos of her.
- That the hotel style security locks aren’t that effective at keeping you secure. A couple of hefty pushes and the policeman was in without much resistance. Although in this instance, thank goodness it wasn’t.
- I’m not one of those lucky people to drop 14lbs at times of great stress!
- I’m not sentimental about “things”, they are just that…things. It’s my time with the people I love that I’m sentimental about.
Regardless that I’d been expecting that dreadful call, and that I’d thought I’d grieved for my Mum, as she was so different these last couple of years, nothing could have prepared me for her actually passing away. It has left me crushed. However, I know I will recover from this. I have THE MOST phenomenal husband, father and friends around me. Despite this nightmarish tragedy, I am blessed with an incredible life, for which I am in every way grateful for. The Domestic Queen of years gone by, before her brain was invaded by the insidious disease that is dementia, would have wanted me to carry-on, to embrace life and to make the most of every opportunity. But most importantly, she would want me to be happy. So, that’s what I’m going to try and do. It won’t be easy, I am not delusional. I think I have a tough few months ahead of me, but who hasn’t when dealing with grief? I’ve lost part of my past, a part of me, and a friend; it’s going to take time to adjust to a world without her in it. Not even the generic, bland pop music I like is cheering me up at the moment, although I’m sure that’s just temporary and The Domestic Prince will soon be grumbling about what’s on the iPod again.
I fully intend to carry-on with The Domestic Princess. For the next few months, there won’t be any regularity to when I post blogs, owing to the HUGE amount of admin I need to deal with in regards to The Domestic Queen’s estate (the HM Revenue & Customs LOVE a form or twelve – I kid you not!), coupled with us having to move house in India. I am going to try really hard to always post a recipe on a Friday, as cooking takes me to my happy place. I had ear-marked a “Mother’s Day Gift Guide” post this week, but fear it will be too painful…so next year, I promise. And please forgive me if I don’t post, as it’ll probably mean I’m having a tough day.
And the title of this post? No, not an homage to Les Mis, (although I did adore the film and I know Mum would have too) but an homage to The Domestic Queen, who did have a heart full of love. I miss her dearly. In her prime, she was a terrific Mum who taught me so much, and for that, I’m truly thankful.
If you’re still with me after this super long post, thank you for all your concern and kind messages over the last few weeks. Whilst I haven’t been replying, I have been reading them and they have been so appreciated.
With much love
The Domestic Princess