Love lost, read and found
Thanks to a brush with fate, it was not easy for me to know how to address the girls about everything that was happening to their mother. Over the past few months they had seen her spending more and more time in bed or in pain sat on the sofa and gradually doing less and less. Then this turned to frequently having to visit their mother in hospital and then at the end of the day, to see me coming home without her and in her place bringing home my tears instead.
I knew that sooner or later I was going to have to sit them all down and tell them the truth, if I had any idea to what that even was.
Up until now, Katherine had always insisted that we await until the new year and after Christmas as there was no need to worry our girls so soon. So soon, because Kath had been told she had two years yet to live and she was determined to make it more. Kath and I always acted as one and when it came to addressing our daughters, we always stood united. This way, we just managed the situation by saying that ‘mummy’s not well, but hopefully the doctors will make her better soon’.
This strategy was okay at first and it is how we proceeded but it wasn’t long before it became flawed. Despite the two year prognosis and Katherine’s brave face on things she faced, the countdown was far more accelerated than anyone thought. Soon at home, Kath was in much pain, and sometimes in her anguished state, she could not be the full on mother she thrived in being. Before long the girls were being more and more isolated from mum even at home and I started to become the bridge between the two. Whereas usually they would go straight to mum with and for most things, before long I was having to explain to the girls why mum was too tired or not feeling well enough, or just having some bad headache or pains that made her need rest and quiet too.
Around about the end of September and no more than 5 or so months into Katherine’s diagnosis, serious doubts were setting in with me about the strategy of choice, about Christmas not coming soon enough and whether the two years, were just too hopeful.
It was always ‘Kath and I’ and then ‘our kids’, but as the months went by and the hospital stays increased more and more, it soon started to become ‘me and the girls’ and then ‘mum’. It was a devastating conclusion to have to eventually come to, almost a swapping of sides, but eventually I had to strategise how I would manage Katherine, her expectations, her ill health’s impact on our girls and the very now, just as much as I had to manage the strategy Kath and I first started with.
I was torn in two because part of me could not face that this was really going to happen, be it in two years or just around the corner, but it was apparent to me, that Kath would never make even a year let alone two. With Katherine wanting to enjoy a last normal Christmas at home before breaking her terminal news to our girls, I was left weighing up the cost of what might be, should she die before our daughters even knew anything at all.
With a heavy heart one day at the Royal Marsden Hospital visiting Kath, I told her that I felt I must bring the girls up to speed so that they have time to adjust and time to prepare and that they did not unfairly get left out of something so importantly about to affect the rest of their lives so dramatically.
Katherine agreed I should do whatever I felt best and I suggested that the first move was to lay out some of the groundwork. That evening back at home, I called the girls together and as we sat in the lounge room they all knew something strange was going on. Aimée couldn’t stop smiling and Hannah was aware that this was one of those moments that don’t come around very often in life, but she wasn’t sure what exactly was coming, she did however already more than suspect that her mother had cancer but not more than that. Imogen being just 4 years old just sat and listened.
I told the girls that mummy was unwell and that she had cancer and that the cancer was serious but the doctors were doing everything to try and make her well again, but that we all had to be prepared because it might be that mummy could not be cured and that if that came to be, that mummy could maybe even one day die. They all asked lots of questions and a weight in a way was off my back at last, though from this moment onwards I knew I would be carrying more than just my own concerns from now on.
The next day we all visited Kath in hospital and for the first time in a while she was more open and relaxed once again in their company and they were able to hold her and talk with her for as long as they ever did.
I cried thinking about how now it felt like it was me and the girls that would be taking on the world and carrying Katherine with us, but I slept better that night than I had for a long time.
Katherine came home soon after this and it was a relief to us all not to have to visit a hospital just to feel our family was complete every day. But at home Kath’s illness continued moving relentlessly and unabated and no amount of prescribed and increased medication could keep her pain free for very long.
A few weeks into October 2012 and during one of her appointments with St Raphaels Hospice to have her medication intake reviewed, they suggested she stayed for a few days while they tried adjusting the medication, introducing some new ones and withdrawing others with a view to finding a combination that would be more effective at managing her pain relief and symptoms too. I was immediately visibly upset despite Kath’s nodding in approval and the registrar said to me not to worry, that Katherine was not being admitted in to die, but just for pain relief and so that they could send her home pain free and give her the quality of life that as a family we would all want to share in our remaining months together, and that in a few days, Kath would be home again.
Katherine then asked the doctor, “Am I well enough to last past the coming Christmas at least?” and the doctor ensured her she would last well into the new year. We were both relieved about this and we went home to pack Katherine’s things for her short stay and medication overhaul and when we returned the next day, she was admitted.
The next ten days in my life I still want to write about in full but for the moment I summarise by saying; as Kath started to respond well to the new medication and looked better than she had in a while, she was about to be sent home much to all our relief, but she woke up on that morning of our eldest daughter’s birthday and she had developed an infection in her chest and looked and sounded terrible and was even wheezy when she talked.
We were devastated of course, we were looking forward to her home coming on Hannah’s special day and to having double the reasons to celebrate. Hannah turned 14 on November 2nd 2012, whilst her mother was stuck at the Hospice where just a few months earlier her Grandfather had died. She was looking forward to the best present she could of hoped for; her mother had been set to come home that day but was then declared not well enough for the occasion. But despite all of this Katherine insisted we celebrate just the same and have tea and cake without her at home, with all the other members of our extended family. This was a loss to what we called home, for our home was all the poorer for her absence, but for Hannah we tried to do what we could so that her birthday was not just a sad affair.
Later that evening, when all the relatives had gone home, my daughters and I had tea and birthday cake more intimately with Katherine at the Hospice. She gave each of her daughter’s hair a good brushing to the standard that in her absence at home, I was failing to meet. Then our daughters posed innocently with their mother and had their photos taken together. At that moment in time, we had no knowledge that the photo taken of Hannah with her mother on her 14th birthday would turn out to be the last photo of Katherine that would ever be taken. Just three days later we lost Kath from our lives completely.
I have been trying to find a new strategy ever since!