Monday, 20 July 2020

As Mother Lay Dying, the book.

My book will be available on YouTube chapter by chapter.  More below.

RIP Vanessa's Dad.

Vanessa, my PA who helps me with my newsletter and so much more besides, lost her father two
Vanessa's mum and dad on
their wedding day in 1967
days ago.  For this reason, there is no newsletter on Tuesday.  

Vanessa moved into her parents' house at the beginning of lock down to work, help look after her father and to support her mother.  I do not know the family, but I do know that her parents were married for a very long time and that the whole family is close and loving.  Vanessa's father died peacefully the day before yesterday as I write this, and, I think, quite quickly, with Vanessa and her mother, and maybe other family members present.  It was good, she said, it was even wonderful.  And so, the blog this week begins with a small memorial to him, in solidarity with Vanessa over a father's death.  My own father died, as many of you know, five weeks ago.  We both had wonderful fathers and my heart goes out to her, she really loved him and, I believe, he really loved her.   

RIP Errol John Stagg.  My you rest truly, and joyfully, in peace.

As Mother Lay Dying.

In 2015, my mother was given six weeks to live, with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.  I shut down my life in an afternoon and moved in to be with her, to walk as far as we could together for this final journey, both knowing she would have to do the last bit on her own.  Time changed for all of us then.  The family and friends coming in to say goodbye to her, the days and nights of her gentle breathing declining and the memories of all those gone before her, all this kept us in a space where there was no future, just the past and the present.  

I had been helping to support people facing the end of life for a good few years then, but now with this sudden realisation that my mother was dying, I did not know what to do.  My mother knew me better than anyone else in the world.  I could not sit beside her, listen to her speak, and then go home.  I could not hold her hand for a while, and then hand over to her family, I was her family.  We lived in the same house now, for the duration.  And I looked like her.  I sounded like her.  Our relationship had never been easy and now, watching her die, I imagined that we would talk about our painful differences and resolve them through words.  Instead, nothing was said.  The peace that had eluded her all of her life settled on us both, and in the end, love was all there was.  Just love.  

The book of this time, of waiting of watching and of witnessing, is now finished.  I have called it "As Mother Lay Dying".

Part one “The Dying”, accompanies my mother as she faces, day by day, the end of her life.  The house is full of people and flowers, and at night, when everyone has gone home, the silences seem too long and too dark.  Part two, “The Bereavement”, talks of the strange emptiness after the wake and the funeral are done, and my mother's house is silent.  I do not know what I feel, and I can’t find her anywhere. I go back to my world and find that I miss her.  In part three, “The Recovery”, I talk about grief, and the many ways it manifests.  For this part I draw on my own observations, stories and experiences of working with people at the end of life. It is hard to articulate grief and our actions can speak for us.  This section explores some of the different, and surprising, ways I have seen grief manifest while working in the community with end of life.

Below is the first page.  There is a reason for sharing this, and I hope the extract touches you. I aim to read the whole book on my YouTube channel, one chapter at a time, and upload it over a week or so.  It will then be available for anyone, at any time, to hear it read and to listen to as much or as little as they want. 

As Mother Lay Dying

Last week there was no diagnosis. This week there is terminal pancreatic cancer, and I have been uncharacteristically swift and efficient.  I have sorted out my own house and moved into my mother’s house with just a small suitcase, until I am no longer needed here.

I am waiting in a chair at the end of my mother’s bed, so that we can see each other when she wakes. The big comfortable chair that I put next to her bed can’t be seen if she is sitting up.  She would be looking ahead in that case, and talking to a disembodied voice behind her.  I will leave that first chair, the big comfortable one, till later, when she is near to death, and won’t know where I am sitting, only that I am somewhere near her.  At least, that is what I intend.

There were times when her face fell into itself today.  Her mouth drooped and her chin dropped.  When she is feeling able, she is in control and very present.  When she drifts off to sleep, which she does all the time, her energy is gone and the power is diminished.  Her small frame is vacated.  Her face is pale, her mouth is dry and uncomfortable, and her stomach hurts.   Mum’s face is soft to kiss, and hot and smooth.  I smell bad, she says, but I tell her she doesn’t smell bad.  Not at all.  It is just that she needs to use the loo so much and can’t keep any food down.  I think she feels smelly, but she really isn’t.  Mother is fragrant.  Since word of her illness has spread, she has been inundated with beautiful scented soaps and creams; she washes in the most wonderful rose scented, honey extract, vanilla infused bath oils, and she is truly fragrant.

I am sitting in one of her lovely little Regency chairs, at the end of her bed, downstairs in her dining room. Mother’s home sits high up above the Sussex Downs with a conservatory overlooking the Shimmings below, the green and gentle countryside of the Shimmings stretching out for miles just beyond her front door.  Mum likes to sit at her breakfast table in the conservatory watching the tiny horses in the fields and copses miles away, and the clouds and sky moving and changing over the landscape.  She likes to spend time at her little table by the window there, looking out over it all and feeling peaceful.  I am here in her house to look after her while she dies, I have moved in for as long as it takes.  I am learning how this experience of dying is different from others I have witnessed.  I am still not the one doing the dying, I'm not medically trained and I don’t know about the drugs that can help her symptoms, I am not a stranger coming in to offer my little piece of time and love.  I am my mother’s daughter; I am my brothers’ sister and my children’s mother.   I belong to the people directly concerned with this dying person, I am in the middle of it and even if I walked away wanting to have nothing more to do with it, all this dying that Mum is doing is known and felt throughout my entire extended family.  The whisper of it is in everyone’s bones.  She is the next one, it is her turn now.  Each of the old aunts and uncles, each of the grandparents, each of my mother’s siblings that has died, have managed it.  They faced it and got on with it. We all watched and visited those we could visit, and regretted and wondered about those we didn’t visit because they died quietly without anyone there, and we cried when they had gone.  We wondered how they were doing it, those that we did see, and we all hoped that we didn’t have to do it ourselves for a long, long time.  If ever.  We loved the aunts and uncles that have gone now, remembering how they had made our childhood magical.  They were young and strong then, when we were children, my brothers and my cousins and me. 

 Please have a listen.  It may be something you are going through right now, it may be something for the future.  It may be something you are very interested in, and want to know more about. You can hear the first chapter here, chapter one As Mother Lay Dying

Another Addiction painting finished

I haven't been painting much recently.  There is much still to do, but I have not felt very focused.  Last
Marie as the crazy party lady
week, I decided that if I made a YouTube video about finishing the current picture, that had been patiently sitting in the studio for the past month or so twiddling its fingers and not complaining, then I would have no excuses.  It was a grand way of actually doing some work, in that it was much more complicated having it be the subject of a video, but it worked.  The painting is done, and I have a video about it too.  You can see the video here .

These paintings of Marie show her as she was, when she was taking drugs, and now, when she is not.  She has come a long way, and I wanted to show the difference between then and now.  The crazy party lady, with wild jaundiced eyes looks amazing, but a bit mad.  The painting of her now is filled with dignity, peace and calm. I know Marie as she is now, and understand how much she has achieved.  She is, it is worth saying, a magnificent artist herself.

Calm and serene Marie now
I will begin the next painting for the Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition this coming week.  It is of my friend Michael, and his once long suffering partner Martin.  For many many years, Michael was an alcoholic, completely out of control, and without boundaries.  Martin stayed with him, somehow, throughout, and now with Michael clean and well, they are inseparable. This painting will be joyful.  It will be the two of them together in each others arms, it will make us all smile.  

And one day, perhaps, when the madness ends, we can have this exhibition, and show all the paintings, all the words and all the stories together on one place.  Hang in in there, friends.  Even if I have to show it all in my house, we will have this exhibition. 

And so 

Keep an eye open for the next chapters of the book As Mother Lay Dying.  I will try and upload a chapter a day for the next couple of weeks.  There are twenty chapters.  I am so enjoying doing this, and I hope you will enjoy and be moved by the book.  Please let me know what you think, and either leave comments here on this blog or directly on the YouTube comments section below the videos. 

As My Most Beautiful Mother Lay Dying.

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