The Journey. Part One.
My Mum and Auntie they were like twins, except my Mum was one year older. They had ten brothers and sisters. Although my Auntie was younger than my Mum, she was the assertive one, bolder and outspoken, than my quiet and gentle Mum. In general, later on in life, when one went somewhere, the other went too. They were both hard working, strong women. Life had been hard for both of them and their siblings, some of them had died young, my Mum named one of my brothers after her brother. But Life goes on with the ups and the downs, the happy and the sad times.
Five years before they were due to retire, they had a beautiful big house built abroad where they would leave us and live out their twilight years in a hot and sunny country. I didn’t want my Mum to emigrate, but at least she was somewhere in the world, when an airmail was sent, one would eventually get back to me, whereas Paul my Husband, this was not so, for both his parents had passed away.
Really it wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be, for each year they would fly back and visit us in the Summer for four months. It was always fantastic and these two Mums would bring us adult kids back together from our busy home and work lives, for us and for our cousins. On their first day back, to us both families would have a party. Ours would be small as there is only a few of us my Aunties party would be huge as there is a tribe of them, of Auntie’s kids, grandkids and great grand kids!
Both Mum and Auntie were widows, Auntie’s Husband he had emigrated with them and had died abroad. So, although the house was purpose built as two separate houses inside one house with their own kitchen and bathrooms and many bedrooms it was all inside one beautiful home and a very blessed, large garden with lots and lots of fruit and vegetation, great for giving to their local friends and neighbours in their community.
They soon settled into their new home and way of life, family and friends would visit them in turn, including myself I went twice, they went to the little Church nearby and when they came back to visit us for the four months there was always money, they wanted from all of us kids either for the roof repairs for the little Church or for a single Mum they knew or for an orphan who needed money to go to school, or for a neighbour who was struggling and going through a hard time or money for the little school that was opposite their house. They also wanted summer clothes and shoes for young girls or boys in the community who didn’t have much. And all of us obliged, for we would do anything for our Mums.
As the years went by, and they would still come over to us, we would notice subtle changes, for they weren’t getting any younger. Then covid hit and they didn’t come over, nor did I want them to, for in my eyes it seemed old people didn’t matter anymore, for SO many of them died, and feedback and aftercare seemed to have gone out of the window. So, I was glad when the airline company said it was not flying from there. My Mum and Auntie mainly stayed in the house, while covid killed many around the world. They already had a helper that came everyday for a small fee, he was grateful for the money, they were grateful for the help.
Mum and Auntie, had thought of everything, but no one thought of what would happen next. Auntie found a lump in her breast! We were all devastated, there were then tests and a mammogram. Everything cost mega bucks, we here, miles away, collected money and it was sent over to pay for the expensive medical bills. Then a biopsy was needed. I wasn’t able to give to that, it was SO expensive, my cousins were very upset, their lives were suddenly turned upside down.
The biopsy happened a few months later, and it didn’t seem to be healing. Months past then it was decided, Mum and Auntie would come back home, Mum we had heard had the early onset of dementia, so me and my brothers didn’t know what to expect, between us we’d seen films, read about it and some of us had met people with dementia and even worked with people with dementia.
There was a noticeable change in Mum, she was still our lovely Mum, but her confidence had gone, she was like a person with little strength, she was unsteady on her feet and couldn’t walk very far without pain of some description. My auntie had told us while they were still living abroad that the doctor had prescribed medication for her memory and that it was very expensive, she had told me, “Because if was so expensive, we had decided to stop buying it, but when that happened your Mum would just fall silent, so we had no choice, but pay for it again, and you Mum would be joining in the conversation again.”
Mum had some of the memory tablets with her when she came home about two weeks’ worth, they were taken three times a day after food. I had taken a picture of what it was called and had gone to health shops to try and buy them, after we had already tried the doctors, who had told me, “They are herbal tablets the doctor won’t prescribe those.” No health shops I tried had them, my brother, he also tried eventually he looked on line and they sold them in America! He bought three packs, which would last us quite a while.
It was lovely to see Mum and Auntie again, because we hadn’t seen them for two years because of covid, they had aged quite a bit, both in their eighties. Mum was forgetful which seemed like nothing to maybe some of my cousins who love Mum just as much as we love their Mum, my Auntie. How do you compare dementia, to breast cancer, Mum needed help with personal care, bathing, hair washing, going up and down the stairs, it was sad to see the changes, Mum did have a carer abroad who came to the house seven days a week and about three months before they came back home a night carer was needed too, for my poor Auntie just couldn’t cope, if my Mum fell my Auntie was unable to pick Mum up. It was a desperate situation, that needed solving quickly.
So, it was decided, they would both come back home, I hate flying, and hadn’t planned on flying ever again, not even if Mum past away, but I’d told no one that, so it was decided that our cousin who has cared for Mum whenever she came here to visit, helping Mum with her baths, that me and my brothers would pay for my cousin’s airfare and her sister would both go to where they were, to help them pack and see to their individual needs, my cousin would look after our Mum and her sister would look after her own mother. They went over for two weeks.
A young man, Steve who they had took in when he was young, he was now an adult married with kids, they would stay there in the big house and keep it ticking over.
After a month, both Mum’s settled into their new life back home, Mum had a brain scan and blood test, while Auntie had appointments at the doctors and hospital. Because Auntie has daughters who are nurses, they would change her dressings in the wound that didn’t seem to heal from the botched-up biopsy abroad. The lovely community nurses they too would visit, Auntie at home.
Auntie’s smile had gone, I used to be always able to make her laugh, and now as I tried, the pain was too great. One of my brothers who reads the ingredients of every single thing, said to me one day, “Auntie said to me, ‘I do not drink nor have I ever smoked, how come I got cancer?’” My brother replied, “Process food, wi-fi, radiation from mobiles, the list is endless.”
One thing was certain, the first time I or anyone saw my Auntie, I or anyone else couldn’t helped but be moved to tears. As I looked at her swollen hand and arm, I did something I have never done in my life, I asked if I could pray for her, I knelt down and held her swollen hand and cried as I prayed, a simple prayer, I didn’t care what other people thought, my Mum was there and the two sisters who had gone abroad to bring them back home, when I had finished my short prayer, I asked, “Does anyone else want to pray?” My Mum prayed and one of my cousins.
On another occasion, I was in the same room, we were watching, The Chase, when I heard my Auntie say to my Mum who was sitting next to her, on the sofa, “How many times have I got to tell you, ‘Yes, I’m in pain,’” My cousin who we pay to be a carer for my Mum, the one who had gone to support Mum back home, said in a low voice, “Mum she can’t help it,” Auntie as in pain as she was, she eased herself up and put her arm around Mum, her best friend, who had been asking, over and over and over again, “Are you in pain?” Mum could not remember asking, we had not heard for we had been watching the telly. It was a touching moment, together but worlds apart, yet their love is deep, after Auntie’s Husband died, they moved into one bed, and that’s how they slept, company for each other. And when they visit here over the decades, they still shared a double bed.
A month past, and one day when I was visiting for the day, Auntie had told me that one of her grandson’s had been to visit her and had offered to give her cannabis for the pain. We all laughed, even Auntie did, but I thought it was a great idea, for there is nothing worse than physical pain! So, I suggested it to cousins who are nurses, they said, “We will think about it,” But the eldest Daughter said, “Absolutely No!” But my brother who reads, every single label of everything, wouldn’t give up and tried to persuade, our male nurse cousin to get the others to give Auntie the cannabis, but there seemed to be a ring of protection around Auntie by some of her kids.
Auntie asked for my advice one day, “Should I cut my hair?” I said, “No, don’t cut it yet, wait, until you know what the next step it, for we had thought she can come home to have her breast off, but when you are in your eighties, that is old, then there would be the chemo, many didn’t think she would cope with that.
Auntie had told me, “Before I came back home, I gave most of my clothes away to the poor around me.” I had heard, the plan was, for them to be here for a year and then go back, abroad, but only with Mum and Auntie, for Mum would be unable to live in the big house, without Auntie.
Soon Auntie was eating less and less, and one day she was rushed into hospital. She was only allowed one visit a day for one hour, this went on for ten days. I must admit I didn’t think she would come out alive, she was mainly drugged up, sleeping. My Brother said, to his counterpart cousin, “Auntie needs to come out of the hospital,” And thankfully the next day, Auntie was out the hospital.
One major thing, about this time, that our Mums was here was, Mum and Auntie didn’t share the same bed, my cousins had decided that Auntie would stay in another cousin’s house, about three miles away, Mum found it hard to sleep and Auntie missed Mum. So, there were times, that Auntie would leave that cousin’s house and share a bed with Mum for a week.
But when Auntie came out of hospital this last time, she was very ill, one of my cousin’s didn’t want my Mum to visit, to see her like this, as he thought it would be, “Too upsetting”. But we said, “It’s very important that Mum sees her sister, so this was the Saturday, Mum went to see her beloved Sister, and Auntie as weak as she was, sat up in the bed! My cousins took pictures and Auntie and Mum smiled and chatted, for this was the first time she had done this all day. I wanted my Kids to see Auntie for they had not yet visit her since she came back home, Daniel was unable to visit but Meghan came with me, the following day, the house was packed with well-wishers, and at the door we were told, “No more visitors,” I was disappointed, but fully understood. So, we went into the garden, and talked in low voices with the others and my cousins. Then I heard a voice say, “Grace and Meghan you two can go up now to see Auntie, so we went up, Auntie had lost weight, low music was playing and some of her daughters were sitting in the room. Claire said, “Mum, Grace and Meghan are here to see you,” Auntie opened her eyes, unable to speak, she gave us a weak smile and lifted her hand out to me, I held her hand, and quietly whispered, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus”, As my prayer, it seemed like a helpless situation.
Monday, for it was decided now that Mum would go and visit Auntie every day, Mum was there sitting beside the bed, Auntie now unresponsive since the day before, Mum was saying, “Open your eyes,” But there were just low groans from Auntie, Mum put her hands on her head and stroked her hair gently, she couldn’t understand, fully what was happening, after about an hour Mum was supported downstairs, where she would sit quietly in deep thoughts.
One of my younger brothers came to visit, he went upstairs and suddenly someone was crying VERY LOUD! None of us knew who it was, then my cousin came and said to me, “Come and comfort your brother,” I ran upstairs and there I saw my lovely brother, bent almost double, crying his heart out uncontrollably! He was unaware of us all, he was inconsolable, one person stood next to him rubbing his back while I stood the other side, also rubbing his back, after about five minutes of this, he was able to calm himself down and he went back into the bedroom. He later told me, it was as shock to see Auntie like that, because he remembered it was Mum, Auntie and himself, in the hospital when Dad died and it had suddenly brought it all back to him!
Under Auntie’s nighty you could see her struggling for breath, it even looked like her heart was in her tummy, as it shivered up and down, where it looked like each breath was going to be her last. Day and night Auntie was not alone, her children would take it in turns.
I had been sharing a bed with Mum as she didn’t want to be alone, I had turned my phone off as I didn’t want to be woken in the night, for the Cancer nurses had said to the family, the day before, “Today will be her last day.” Midnight had come and gone, and when I reached for my phone at 05.15, it was on the group chat, “She’s gone.” The time was 03.15 Mum woke with the movement of me siting up to reach for my phone, and I told Mum, but been a little deaf, she didn’t hear what I said, so I repeated it, “Auntie has died,” But Mum still with a smile on her sweet face said, “What did you say,” I had to shout louder as I said, “AUNTIE HAS DIED,” Mum just looked at me and was quiet.