What a couple of weeks it’s been: In the space of 2 weeks, I not only saw the Mothership’s health suddenly decline and ultimately it claimed her life, but I’ve somehow managed to arrange and kind of co-ordinate her funeral. And all this was whilst still trying to recover from the madness that comes with working within retail at Christmas. It has been a complete whirlwind and anything prior to these events seem like a lifetime ago and it goes without saying that the past couple of weeks have been unbelievably stressful and I’ve been an emotional wreck at times, prone to spontaneous bursts of crying or rage and shoutiness. To be quite honest, I’ve been running on adrenaline all this time and can barely string a coherent sentence together – Lord knows how I’m managing to compose this post. It’s a very sad state of affairs, but there have been moments of pure comedy – Mainly inappropriate black humour, but I wanted to share some of it:
In the last couple of days before the Mothership passed away, her health was declining every day and there was one particular night where YKL and I were taking it in turns to stay up all night whilst she slept. At about 3am, after being woken up for about the 6th time we both noticed that the central heating was playing up. So there I was looking at the boiler whilst worrying if YKL was coping with the Mothership. Well, the boiler died and there was no coming back. Obviously we couldn’t call anyone out given it was 3am, so I went online to arrange an engineer visit, only the first available appointment wasn’t later that day, but for the following day. I made the appointment anyway and decided to wake up for 8am when the phone lines opened to try and get an earlier appointment. When I did eventually make the phonecall, I’m afraid I used the trump words “pensioner mother” and “terminal cancer” and they quickly rearranged the appointment for later that day. 9am, the doorbell rings and it’s the engineer. By 9:15, we have a working heater again. Amazing what key words can do during a phonecall…
Mum was admitted to hospital on the Wednesday night after it became painfully clear that we couldn’t cope with caring for her at home after the sudden decline the previous weekend and then a continuing slow and steady decline since. Actually, the decline was such that I insisted that the various sisters still in the UK (other than YKL who was still with me) should come and see the Mothership sooner rather than later as she could still currently recognise and acknowledge people, something I couldn’t guarantee would happen by the weekend. Both W and Q just missed Dad’s passing as they were en route to Birmingham when he passed away and I’ve alway kicked myself for not insisting they make it to Birmingham just that bit sooner. The GP recommended admitting her via A+E as there weren’t any beds available in the Macmillan Hospice, but the Macmillan Nurse (who was an absolute gem in the 2 days we had been dealing with him, so please donate any money you can to Macmillan as they genuinely help and support families dealing with Cancer), explained that Mum would be admitted overnight and he would fax over an application form in the morning so that the in-hospital Macmillan team could assess Mum and providing it was suitable to do so, would transfer her to the hospice as soon as a bed became available. I remember the look on my sister’s faces as they said goodbye to Mum and how there was the sense that this was it. Even waiting in A+E, she was the best I’d seen her all week and she was reasonably alert – As I still had to go to work the following day, I still began to think how it was better this way as she was surrounded by professionals who could look after her, and how I could always visit her after work without having to make the trek across the City as I had to previously when she was in City Hospital. The phonecall I got from YKL just after 1am saying we should get to the hospital NOW was a scary one, but S, Q and I all got there. I phoned W and even though she and R had only driven back home after being in Birmingham all day, I told them that they really should come back up and see Mum as she was significantly weaker and this was it.
Mum’s breathing was quite laboured and she had an oxygen mask on but with her one eye open (she was lying on her side), it would look at wherever a sound came from so she was still aware of what was going on around her. Using our iPhones and Skype, we even managed to get YML and H to speak to Mum and say their goodbyes – And they could see her nodding her head acknowledging that she could understand them. We all got to say our goodbyes to her and it was then a matter of whether she could hold on for W to arrive. Whilst holding her hand, I suddenly remembered how my Dad had these huge hands and how I missed them, plus for the past few years, Mum always liked to hold my hand as I said goodbye or goodnight to her, so I took a picture of my hand holding Mum’s.
When W did arrive, there were more tears as she said her goodbyes and at one point, Wendy took Mum’s hand and said to her “Can you hear and understand me Mum? If you do, then squeeze my hand” – AND SHE DID. I of course burst into tears again because it meant that Mum knew herself that this was the end and that we were saying goodbye. If life was like a storybook or as romantic as we all hoped, Mum would have passed away then, but she held on for a few more hours. In fact, when they took her BP and other stats at 7am, she had actually improved since we got there just after 1am. It had improved so much that at 7.30am, after some tea and toast provided by the hospital, some of us decided to go back home to get some rest. YKL needed it as she’d been awake for nearly 24hrs, Q needed more sleep and I left because even though I could have stayed, my phone battery was dying (again, I should have charged it up knowing that Mum was in hospital) and even if I stayed, I wouldn’t have had enough battery life to call people to say that she had passed if needed.
At 9:36, I got a phonecall from W saying that we should go in because at one point, Mum’s breathing had stopped so I quickly gathered Q and YKL and we got ready to leave. I was just putting on my shoes when at 9:43, W called me again to say that Mum had taken her last breath. Naturally, I felt bad that I wasn’t there at the very end but I had already said my goodbyes to her so I was ultimately OK with not being there. More to the point, I felt at peace for Mum that everyone – including the Sisters based in the US – got to say their goodbyes to Mum. Plus, S and W were there with her at the very end and I took great comfort in that (unlike how none of us were there for my Dad when he passed). She looked peaceful and W told me that she passed very peacefully so I’m very very grateful that she was spared the pain and suffering that other Cancer patients go through.
Fast forward to the day of the funeral and whilst people were in the room setting everything up and waiting for any possible guests to arrive, I started chatting to the undertaker and one of the administrators from the funeral directors whom we have been dealing with throughout the process of organising everything for the funeral. My BiL walks out from the main room and is in the small corridor about 6ft from us chatting. I’m being asked if I’m OK and various sympathetic questions when my BiL lets out a massively loud fart, walks around a bit looking at the fixtures and fittings on the wall, then walks off. It was loud enough that the undertaker actually stopped mid-sentence and looked at me as if to ask “Did he really just fart very loudly and walk off?” I carried on chatting normally and pretended not to notice.
Because Mum passed away just before Chinese New Year, we had to get her buried this lunar year, otherwise we were looking at having to wait at least 5 weeks before we could bury her. Of course, that would have *really* screwed us up, especially in terms of grieving so once we realised that we needed to get it done before Chinese New Year, we scrambled to find 1 or 2 suitable days in the Calendar (suitable as in what days are good or bad for burials, etc. as compared to what fitted our diaries). So it was decided that the day after Mum died, we would need to get the Death Certificate from the Bereavement Office at the hospital, then we would need to get the Death Certificate and also the green form which permits burials and cremations, and from there we would be able to make funeral arrangements with the funeral directors. Our plan was simple (!), up at 9am and straight onto the Register Office to try and get an appointment later that day, around 1pm, then check with the ward at the hospital Mum died that they had signed and sent all the paperwork to the bereavement office for when they open at 10am, then we have 2 – 3 hrs for them to get it prepared and signed so we could take it to the Register Office, get the Death Certificate and green form, then proceed to the funeral directors. Except it didn’t work out that way; Getting the appointment at the Register Office was fine, but what I didn’t realise was that the death certificate needed to be signed by the coroner first – Which can take a couple of days and on this particular day, he was in court until 12 midday – Cutting it fine to say the least! So what did I do? I got YKL to turn on the waterworks down the phone stressing how it’s a Chinese thing and that we needed the form ASAP so we could bury her before a deadline (which was loosely true). And you know what? We collected the Death Certificate just before 12 midday from the Bereavement Office. We’d already changed the appointment at the Register Office to 3pm by this point but it was still good that we got everything we needed.
Then there are the sadder moments like the first time I got a moment to myself and I was sat outside in the Bullring contemplating if I was going to stay in Birmingham or not. Don’t get my wrong, I have no immediate plans to leave my hometown, but I was thinking of how Mum and Dad used to say that they’ve been in Birmingham for so long now that it feels like home for them (finally), more relevant to this blog would be how Mum would say that there are a lot of good eating options in Birmingham these days, especially when thinking back of how when she first arrived in the City, you could hardly get anything remotely resembling what we’d now call authentic Chinese food. I sat there looking out to the East of the City and thought to myself that although I could now move away from Birmingham should I wish to, I kind of feel obliged to stay – Not because it’s my hometown and there is a whole City of good eats which I hope to be sharing with you all, but also because my parents spent so long here that my family have history here. So here’s to new beginnings and to this Brummie Tummy being given the chance to share good (and bad) eats with you all.