On the 6th of May 2020, on the night of the full moon, my mother in law died suddenly after a brief and unexpected illness. Now as the moon arrives to fullness again, I felt the urge to share some of the moments, some of the feelings and observations from this last month.
She was taken to hospital by ambulance late in the evening on Saturday the 2nd of May.
The phone startles us out of sleep at 3.30am, we rush down the stairs, not really awake. I sit on the step behind my husband and put my ear close to the phone held up at his. The doctor at the other end is kind but matter of fact. There is nothing they can do apart from make her comfortable.
We return upstairs and spend some time with our eldest daughter who was also woken by the phone ringing. We cry, we talk, we call my brother in law in Canada. We decide to get up as sleep is impossible now. As I walk down the stairs I notice my husband put on deodorant even though it’s four in the morning.
Our three young children get up as normal, surprised to find us already awake and downstairs together on a Sunday. We give them breakfast and let them have their normal routine. But there comes a point where we can’t put it off any longer. We explain that something is wrong in nanny’s tummy and the doctors can’t fix it. She is going to die. We’re as gentle as we can be, but truthful. Our six year old wants to know if he can go on his Xbox.
I spend most of Sunday on and off the phone, talking to nurses. Trying to get a sense of how long. But nobody can answer me. She is stable. She is comfortable. Because we are in the middle of the Covid-19 Pandemic, my husband can only visit once and then will have to isolate. We agonise over when is the best time to go.
The hospital call late Sunday afternoon, she is asking for her son, my husband, and they encourage him to go while she is still conscious and aware. I drive him to the hospital and spend thirty anxious minutes in the car park waiting for him. He manages to get his brother on the phone whilst he is with her. We drive home again knowing we just have to wait.
Wednesday night and I’m in the bath, the phone rings again. She is gone. We stand at the bottom of the stairs, a triptych of me, my husband and our eldest daughter. Clinging on to each other while the earth spins and spins. Our younger children in the other room are as yet blissfully unaware.
The days that follow are a surreal mix of normality interspersed with phone calls. I’m struck by the fact that in one moment I’m texting my husband to ask him what he wants for dinner and in the next letting him know that I’ve completed the death registration over the phone.
I’m on auto pilot, doing the washing, feeding the children. Everything and nothing has changed all at once. The children are coping well, though our youngest is preoccupied with questions about the funeral that always seem to come up at bedtime.
The day of the funeral is interminably long. We booked a late slot so that it can be streamed on the internet for my brother in law in Canada. I go to the shops and buy all our favourite treats in the hope of tempting everyone to eat.
The hearse arrives at 5.30pm and all of our neighbours come out on to the street to see. She has lived in this house for over fifty years. As we loop down the road towards the crematorium, I’m unbearably moved seeing them all watching her go by.
Yesterday, I hung new curtains in the front room. The old ones never matched the colour scheme, but we had never got round to doing anything about it. She would grumble about things but not be able to deal with changing them.
I’ve spent hours of the last month going through boxes of hoarded papers, endless bits of nothing. Box after box of memories. She irritated the hell out of herself with her own clutter but couldn’t find the strength to deal with it properly.
I don’t really know how to start grieving someone who was by turns fiercely loyal, fiercely stubborn and fiercely difficult.
The thing I’ve noticed the most is that ordinary life has to go on, whether you want it to or not. She’s only been gone a month and yet it seems longer. The smallest of moments can make the heart stumble, for the heart hasn’t yet accepted that she is gone.
Awen Clement is a healer, celebrant and counsellor based in Birmingham, UK. She lives with her husband, four children and a grouchy old cat. Her purpose in the world is to help people navigate loss and grief.