My mother has passed away. At 1.30 this morning, I woke. My husband, too. He trailed downstairs to her temporary bedroom, and I listened for the rattle of laboured breathing. Seconds later, he appeared and asked me to stay calm.
Storm Dennis is due in her part of the country any time now, already raindrops ricochet off the industrial-strength window shutters I always judged OTT. My mother lived for the seven-day weather forecast. To know her death coincided with headline-making winds would bring tickled pink pleasure.
First the 2am district nurses, and then a funeral director who carried out low-key choreographed manoeuvres under cover of night offered sympathy. ‘I’m so sorry you’ve lost your mother,’ they each said and made it sound like I’d left her in another room.
Loss doesn’t cover what I feel, even though this death came after two months of decline. Nursing her through the last four weeks of her illness was so intense, it’s overwhelming to suddenly find her gone.
What have I lost?
Until today, whenever something monumental happened in my life, I told her. For once, she was aware of the shifting sands before I was. Who do I tell stuff now?
Having lived with the soundtrack of her favourite radio phone-in shows, I’d expected to find relief in silence. The tumbling away of the ground was unexpected.
Together with my wonderful, patient and caring husband, I brought my mother home, and obeyed a series of often irrational demands. A bigger television even though she was blind, new garden furniture and a 42-point master service of the car she hasn’t driven in a year.
She died without pain or anxiety (thanks to class A drugs) and with dignity (thanks to Damart thermal nightwear).
She was too fond of jam, French fancies, Lucozade and supermarket whisky. A bag of sugar with a bus pass. My mother had reached that glorious age where social norms no longer mattered. She’d cheerfully point out someone fat in a voice too loud, slam her front door in the face of anyone with a clipboard, and openly bought the Daily Mail.
I’ve been with the same man for 22 years. She still thought it a phase; like selfies, fidget-spinners and casual racism. It took until last year for her to accept that when answering the phone, it was no longer the law to recite her number.
All of this I have lost, but I will never lose the woman who somehow scraped together money to make up a shortfall in the deposit on our first house, who accepted my husband like another son and who spent her last days repeating how sorry she was not to found not at her best.
Nothing good comes from the death of someone adored, but the scale and bottomless pain I feel surely signals shared love. This I haven’t lost. This I never will.
Rest in peace, Pauline. I love you.