I remember this feeling. I remember this.
I’m walking along the hospital corridor, my footfall is echoing loudly and my legs are heavy.
It’s getting darker. I feel like I am going underground.
And the familiar feeling is there.
I wish it wasn’t.
It’s the feeling of knowing that something major and tragic has happened in the life of someone who I love beyond condition.
It’s the feeling of knowing that in a few seconds I am going to look upon the face of the person that bore me for many months, the person that gave me life and the person who sacrificed so much.
And it’s the feeling of knowing that the moment I look upon that face, it’s going to hit me, a huge jolt of turbulent and violent emotions; shock, love, horror, grief, guilt and sadness.
I am bracing myself for this moment.
I’ve already been through the rite of passage of dealing with the death of one parent. The wounds have barely healed, the scars are still fresh. I’m not ready for this again. Not yet.
The child in me wants to run, to scream, to cry, to find comfort in the embrace of a parent. But the adult in me knows that one parent is dead and the other is fighting for life in a bed, just the other side of this door.
I am on my own now, and my mind is wandering. I pause by the door.
I’m thinking back to the moment when I found out.
It was a normal day. They always are.
It was the text message from my brother. There was something not right about it.
“Call me as soon as you can”
These are plain, casual words. But the sterility of these words belies the fact that this text was screaming in my inbox, like a silent alarm.
Instead of immediately calling my brother, I started a conversation with a colleague.
At that point I wasn’t to know my brother had sent the text from the back of an ambulance.
I wasn’t to know that the ambulance had been called five minutes previously by my sister-in-law.
I wasn’t to know that she had just found my mother, whose brain had been annihilated by the ravages of a massive stroke. And that my sister in law had found my mother in a pool of her own bodily fluids.
And I wasn’t to know that she had been lying there for nearly four days, drifting in and out of consciousness, on the floor, on her own, unable to move, unable to talk,
And all the time, the rattle and hum of everyday life had been going on around her; people calling on the phone, visitors knocking on the door and getting no response, newspaper delivery….everyone blissfully unaware that behind that door a terrible drama was playing out.
I am jolted out of this reflection by the sting of the hand soap hanging on the ward door as I apply it.
The clinical fragrance lifts my sinus, it’s a familiar smell. It has immediate associations with death and then of childbirth. I think back to my son’s birth close to two years ago now. This is a pleasant thought in an otherwise dark day.
I am in a hospital, but I am barely aware of it; I’m numb,
going through the motions, a weird state of consciousness somewhere between passive acceptance and airport lounge autopilot.
Hospitals; these are places of hope and despair. These are places of extreme emotion. Despite the veneer of busy efficiency, clinical precision and sparkling cleanliness, the walls are thick with it; Scratch a layer of paint of and the walls drip with the cries of life coming, or returning, into the world, and the silent gasps of lives as they leave.
We are in the ward. I brace myself.
On first impressions my mother looks better than I had imagined her, but then again I still find myself catching my breath. Her face has slipped on the left side. One of her eyes is heavily infected. I learn later that this is a result of her having lied in her own vomit for days.
Her skin is sallow, grey and translucent and her mouth hangs open and heavy.
She opens her mouth to speak and a sound comes out. This sound doesn’t belong to her. In fact it is barely a human sound.
There is fear and terror in her eyes. I’m trying to be brave but I suspect she can see these things in my eyes too. The child in me wants to start crying, to grab onto my mother’s trouser leg for comfort.
The consultant explains that my mother has suffered a haemorrhagic stroke. I am listening, but I am not hearing the words.
My body is standing there, my head nodding, my mouth forming words and forming those into questions which I find myself asking of the consultant.
But my mind is somewhere else, drifting, numb.
We try and offer reassurance to my mother. It is hard to know if she has understood what is happening. Her thoughts are confused. She is anxious, frightened. I realise I am crying, hot tears streaming down my cheeks.
Now we are standing at the door to my mother’s house. The last person to leave this house was a paramedic. The child in me doesn’t want to go in here. I am frightened of what we will find.
But it has to happen. We have to go in and try and piece events together, secure the house and clean up.
I take a deep breath and walk in.
The smell is overwhelming, almost agricultural.
I think back to what my sister in law must have walked in on those few days ago. I am glad it wasn’t me. But I also wish it was me.
I wish it was me so that it could have been one of her sons that my mother saw first, a reassuring sight of familiarity in an otherwise terrifying nightmare.
I wish it was me so that I could have gently lifted her head off of the floor and wiped away the blood and everything else she was found lying in.
I wish it was me so I could have cradled her in my arms whilst stroking her head and whispering reassuring words about her future.
I wish it was me so I could have done all of these things – just like she did with me some forty one years ago.
We begin tidying up, doing the best we can. Everywhere we look, there are the signs of a life interrupted.
There are immaculate diary entries. The computer is still on. The long list of efficiently worded and business like emails stop on the Thursday evening.
There are the drawn curtains, the vacuum cleaner lying abandoned on the stairs and the unheard, unanswered voice messages on the answer machine.
There is the Friday paper on the door mat which lies there accusingly – why didn’t you call her on the Friday night like you were going to?
And in front of me I catch sight of something which causes me to choke back some tears.
There is a bowl of apples on the kitchen floor.
And I imagine my mother being distracted by some other mundane task and placing them there as a half-way holding position between where they came from and where they were meant to go.
In that moment she wasn’t to know that they would never get to wherever they were meant to go.
And now a few days later, I am stood here wondering if she will ever recover enough to find out where I was meant to go; to know where her grandchildren were meant to go; to know where any of this is meant to go.
I’ve lost it. My shoulders are shaking and I am crying uncontrollably.