Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas contrasts


I'm back in Canberra for a few days before I return to Sydney (alone) to spend more time with mum.

So I found out Monday afternoon that mum had been in hospital since Friday, and my brother hadn't told me. I debated whether I should drop everything and go, but my brother said she was in no immediate danger and we decided to spend the afternoon scrambling to get ready for Christmas and leave in the morning. I didn't get a lot of sleep after that decision! How much could I trust my brother's assessment? I did try ringing mum's mobile, but apparently she put it on a lunch tray and it got taken away and never returned - probably in the trash somewhere - of course I didn't find that out until later so I kept trying; and I called the hospital but at the time she was off having an MRI. So I spoke to a nurse but not to her.

Anyway, Tuesday morning we each opened one present because they weren't all going to fit in the car - we each opened the biggest one! Then the car was carefully loaded, including bags under feet and on laps. Not the most comfortable for a four hour drive. But we are big on presents in our family, especially on my husband's side. We got to Sydney and picked up mum's house key from my brother then went to the hospital.

I saw her only two weeks before and at that time she was obviously tired and unwell, but still very much herself. On Tuesday she was much worse. She didn't recognise me for a minute when I walked in, she thought I was someone else's visitor looking for a chair. Scary. She only realised it was me when Tim and the kids followed me around the curtain. She was better the rest of the visit, alert enough most of the time to go through some mail with me - we opened Christmas cards and arranged for me to pay a bill for her - but she needed to close her eyes and rest often. She needed assistance to get from bed to chair briefly so they could change her sheets. My brother said she had barely eaten in the weeks before she went into hospital, and she still wasn't. She'd had a drip for a few days but it was making her fluid retention worse and they had taken it out.

She made it clear to the doctors that she no longer wanted the cancer treatment which was making her feel so sick and not doing much good, she just wants palliative care to make her last days easier. All she wants is a private room instead of being in with three others, she is waiting for one to become available. With no hope of improvement, she doesn't see the point of hanging on. I accept this, as it is how I would feel in that situation. It is interesting that my husband's family feels the opposite, they think she needs treatment for depression so she'll have the will to live longer. Yet Tim's mother died very slowly after decades of gradual decline (MS), with a loss of all physical and mental function, and I think that would be much worse than dying relatively quickly.

We left at dinner time and weren't sure if my brother had planned for us to have dinner with him and I couldn't get through on the phone so we went to a restaurant. Then when we got back to the house he had just got back from visiting mum and was starting to prepare food for us. We pretended to eat a little bit (very late for the kids!). We were a bit dubious about eating anything he had arranged. He has OCD and hoards food. Decaying, rotting food. The house stinks and now mum isn't there (he lives with mum) it's only going to get worse. We stayed there the night, in the smell and the dust. Tim's asthma got quite bad overnight.

The next day we visited mum again then went to the other side of Sydney to our hotel. My family and my husband's live about as far apart as possible in the same city. The kids swam in the pool, we set up out little travel Christmas tree, and had dinner with my husband's family.

On Christmas morning we opened all our presents. My main present was an iPad air, my first tablet. Also many other things, like this cute teacup and a retro kettle and toaster. The teacup is sitting on a colouring book I bought myself after I bought my daughter one and then remembered how much I enjoyed it as a child and even a teenager.

Christmas morning was hard. The contrast between getting all the material things I wanted, and my mother terminally ill in hospital, was very strange and upsetting.

We had lunch with my husband's extended family. I enjoyed the socialising part but not the food. They just don't have the same taste in food as I do. Tim's mother was English and their food traditions reflect that. They can have eight desserts on the table with not one I like! Good for me, I suppose. Not that I went hungry. I filled up on chips and chocolates.

Long drive through Christmas Day traffic and a sudden thunderstorm, back to the hospital to see mum. She had deteriorated even more over the couple of days since our first visit. She spent most of the time lying with her eyes closed. She was too weak to open her presents - which were totally inappropriate anyway since I had bought them when she was still relatively well. I can't see her reading the books now, and she barely glanced at the digital photo frame that we set up with lots of family pictures.

My brother said he hadn't had time to buy presents - and for once I didn't blame him, he's been doing pretty well looking after mum - and he'd grabbed a few things he already had. He gave us chocolates, which would be ok, but I checked the use-by dates later and threw them all out. Expired in 2009. Not sure how rancid chocolates get in five years, but I didn't want to take the risk.

We went to my grandfather's house for dinner with my side of the family. We got there so late they had given up on us but there was enough food left, if a bit cold, and we got to have dessert with them (desserts I like!) and a chat. Only an hour or so then the cousins with small children were leaving so we did too. We had a different hotel, near Poppa's (grandad). One of the hardest things of the day was everyone talking about mum. Not that I minded talking about her, but it seemed I had to say the same things over and over to each person or group of people as someone else asked how she was. It boiled down to: she's dying. But you can't say it quite like that.

We saw mum again the next morning, she barely knew I was there. The kids have been so angelic all through this. They would visit with grandma a bit then Tim would take them off for a walk around the hospital or to sit somewhere and play with their Nintendo DSs. They never complained or showed distaste for how she looked or got impatient. And Tim drove me back and forth through stressful city traffic every day. I have such a lovely family.

It's Tim's father's birthday on Boxing Day so we always get together for lunch again, it was an even bigger group than Christmas when people have other commitments. A few more presents from people we hadn't seen yet. I don't want to sound mercenary, but it actually healed a bit of hurt I was carrying from last year when I felt a bit forgotten by some of Tim's family. This year I felt showered in presents, and therefore love. It's not about what I got, it's about people showing they care about you. I usually feel very much a part of his family, I fit in better with them than I do with my own family although they are lovely people too, so it was nice to feel included again in the present orgy.

Then we saw The Hobbit, in two shifts so there were babysitters for all the children. This is a big family tradition too, major fantasy movies seem to get released on Boxing Day here and we are all fantasy geeks so we saw all the Lord of the Rings movies together and now the three Hobbit movies. Next year it will be the new Star Wars.

Stayed at my brother-in-law's house then drove home today. So nice to be home, and I am looking forward to my own bed so much. Stress and worry have kept me awake a lot, last night even though that spare bed is horribly uncomfortable I just crashed and actually had a good sleep. But I need lots more. I actually feel a bit less stressed now. I have spent some time with mum, so I no longer have the panic of "what if she dies before I get there?" Of course I am sad and worried, but less frantic.

My plan it to have a few days at home then go back to Sydney by myself to spend more time with mum. I'll be staying at her house which will be horrible, but I'll do my best to clean and I'll just stay out of the stinking kitchen - I'll probably have to eat out every meal. I can't imagine cooking there with all of my brother's stuff everywhere. But the good thing is that the house is only 5 mins from the hospital. Tim has time off work so he can look after the kids at home and I'll only have to worry about mum. I really don't know how long I'll be there or what is going to happen.

I'll try to keep myself healthy but weight loss really isn't my focus at the moment.

1 comment:

  1. Wow Natalie. Such a big couple of days. I think you are doing tremendously in a situation that's unfamiliar and out of your control.

    I think absolutely you need to focus on your family right now both your mum and your brother. This is going to be unsettling for him too and from what you've described he hasn't got some of the emotional skills to be able to handle it.

    Right now, don't worry about your weight. Just focus on keeping yourself as well as you can.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you.