It’s 12:24am and there is a million and one things I should be writing – the work experience report, the 18,000 word MA final project for example. And yet the impending date of 14th July is all that is on my mind. I don’t want this date to be ominous; I don’t want to look at the calendar with increasing fear as each year passes but I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m not writing this to invite pity or make other people feel uncomfortable but this time last year I felt so powerless to control the whirlwind that was happening around me, I hope that by committing my experience to the page I can try to figure out what the hell happened to me last year and find some way of being at peace with it. Surely as a “journalist in training” words can be my tool or weapon – writing about other topics has temporarily abandoned me so by spilling about Mum I hope to unlock my abilities again and get back to writing.
Thursday 14 July, 2016.
I seem to remember being depressed the night before. I think I’d been on a late shift at work, despite serving the general public all the time it’s not a great job when you don’t enjoy being left alone with your own thoughts, you interact with people but on a superficial level, there is still plenty of opportunity to listen to the demons in your head. I was probably feeling invisible, not funny enough – I love a considerable portion of my work colleagues but often feel boring and unfunny when it comes to joining in. It’s probably of great frustration to a lot of my friends, they don’t have to prove my worth to them, I just don’t value myself so it’s hard to see why others would. I seem to remember going home, cracking open a couple of ciders and then firing out a passive aggressive tweet hoping someone would cotton on to how I was feeling without me having to do all the work. Finally realising I should turn in I switched my phone off, no-one ever rings me at night anyway but for whatever reason my phone was off.
When I switched my phone on the next morning there was a missed call from my Dad at around 7am. He was holidaying at his apartment in Spain, with my Mum and their guests my Auntie Barbara and their friend Bob. Then a voicemail appeared and I just knew something was wrong. “Phil please can you get in touch as soon as you get this”.
I rang with a feeling in the pit of my stomach that was already intense. I didn’t sit down, I rarely do when I’m on the phone, I paced. When Dad answered it was something to the effect of; “There’s no easy way to tell you this but I’ve lost your Mum”. Even in that moment I could detect the Beamon mentality of blaming ourselves for everything, “I’ve lost your Mum”, as if it was Dad’s fault, of course it wasn’t but that’s what we Beamons do. I can only liken the experience to being winded, the few times I received a football to the stomach in PE, it hurt but I was so punch drunk that I was just numb.
When I was a child my Mum, aged 35 years old, had been diagnosed with bowel cancer. She had beaten it but it had cost her most of her colon and she had to face the indignity of having a colostomy bag for the rest of her life. I was clueless until many years later, she decided that her children didn’t need to be burdened with her change in circumstance and kept it from us for many years. I remember her being ill in hospital but it felt pretty routine at the time. Having now read about the realities of dealing with a colostomy or stoma, I find it remarkable that she managed to hide this from Charlotte and me but I’m also grateful that she spared us that worry. I think what it must have been like, how scary it must have been to have her body change like that, but she put on a brave face. As colostomy experiences go things had worked relatively complication free for 18 years until the last couple of years of her life where things got knotted inside her colon and she was forced to have a further operation. After that she didn’t feel confident enough to continue working, she was prone to making unexpected noises and in her job as a nurse didn’t feel confident working with patients on a one to one basis. Her last years were mired by worrying about how she could keep her pension and still feel useful in the NHS. She was immensely proud of her role as a family planning nurse and didn’t want to see her hard work disregarded by leaving the service early, she was one of the first nurses to be trained as a ‘coil fitter’ in Stoke on Trent and I of course wound her up about this constantly. In a cruel twist she’d finally found the perfect role, take partial retirement but keep her hand in by doing flu jabs with my Auntie Linda from time to time. She was a couple of days from being officially retired.
Upon her arrival in Spain my Mum was not feeling too clever. After little improvement in the first two days she went to a Spanish hospital and was informed she had a bowel obstruction, no doubt not helped by her colostomy. I distinctly remember telling a friend at work how unfortunate it was Mum’s holiday had been ruined but none of us knew what was coming. They gave her drugs and things were flowing again and upon being discharged she wasn’t 100% but showed improvement and even braved the swimming pool. That night, while my Dad read a book on the terrace, he noticed my Mum go to the kitchen sink to get a glass of water. She began coughing up a liquid, and I don’t need to go into more elaborate details than that but he rushed to her side and my Mum collapsed into his arms and died not long after having drowned in her own stomach fluid.
When something like that happens one’s first reaction is to congregate towards your family. But as much as I wanted to be with my Dad I wasn’t able to, he was in Spain and planning on returning immediately. My other family were in Stoke and equally as powerless. So I rang my friend Leia and spent the day with her and her daughter Niamh, something we did often. I remember thinking this would be the last bit of normality I’d experience for a while. Maybe that was an unusual reaction but I needed to switch my brain off.
As this year has rolled on, I feel like I need to keep apologising when I bring up Mum’s passing but it’s still on my mind. There is a pang of guilt at every national disaster or loss other friends suffer that I’m still ruminating over Mum’s death. I feel like the way she went, so unexpected, left me traumatised for so long. I kept thinking about what my Dad and the other friends and family on Jardin 2 must have gone through that night, seeing her so full of life one minute and then watching her body being loaded into the back of a van the next. I keep thinking about the cruelty that a good woman who had worked all of her life, cared for her dementia-suffering Mother and then finally, about to retire, had had her golden years snatched. And more selfishly, as much as I love my Dad and he is so incredibly supportive, how nothing can quite substitute a Mother’s love. I suffer from depression and have done for most of my life, without Mum it feels like one less person in my corner rooting for me unconditionally.
Somehow I made it back to Uni for the second year of my Masters and every achievement that in the first year would have been the recipient of a congratulatory text goes unrecognised because well no-one cares quite as much. But I owe it to her to carry on, she could have given up 18 years previously but godammit she had a family to raise, a husband to love and gin to drink. At her funeral I was approached by other people that had colostomy bags and they told me that Mum, in her capacity as a volunteer for the Colostomy Association, had visited them shortly after their operations and talked to them about the realities of having a stoma and made them realise it wasn’t so bad. If she could do that, despite of all of her pain and anger at her own situation, maybe I can keep going too and believe it will get better.