Hello. Some of you might have noticed that I haven’t been around much lately. Some of you might not have noticed at all, but that’s fine: everyone is busy with so many things – family, work, non-work projects, hobbies, friends, life. In truth, I’ve felt a bit lost since the summer, for various reasons. Life has seemed a bit muted at times. But this is not a post about me.
On 1st December, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She is 68. Far too young, in my eyes, for this. To cut a long story short, it all kicked off in July, and the eventual diagnosis was the result of several months of what we thought were unrelated symptoms, blood tests, hospital procedures, time spent bedridden, and two hospital stays – the second one, leading to where she is now – which is a nursing home – where thankfully, the staff are all fantastic. I won’t even comment on how traumatic the 6-week hospital stay was, for all of us.
My mother-in-law is a very loved and popular person. She worked (right up until the day her leg swelled up and she had to turn round and go to the doctor instead of work) as the main receptionist at the Officer’s Mess at a military base for over 30 years. She has organised accommodation and collated bar bills and laughed and joked with the highest of ranks, including royalty. There isn’t a person in her home town who hasn’t heard of her. She is known for her sunny disposition and her love of a glass of wine. She is someone who will be missed at every single party forever more.
They didn’t want to give us a timeframe – the consultant was very reluctant to do it, but when pushed, he suggested ‘3, maybe 4 weeks’. The senior nurse said quietly ‘I think you’ll get Christmas’. So all of December’s plans were shelved – we moved from our flat in London to my husband’s family home. We cancelled holidays and events (although we did make a couple of trips to watch football matches, both for light-relief and as something that she liked hearing about, and I made a mad secret dash to visit my own family between Christmas and New Year, arriving just in time for dinner and some much-needed hugs). We’ve spent most of our time, instead, with my brother-in-law, who had been looking after her alone for several months, and was noticeably feeling the strain. He had help from his mum’s friends, but we weren’t able to be here due to my husband’s job, which was 5h away. After several stressful and exhausting weekend trips, we made the decision that he would finish his contract and we would stay close to his mum, all of us making daily trips to her bedside, chatting, reminiscing and trying our best to support each other through it all.
It is now 11th January, and although weak, and mostly sleeping now, she is still fighting on. We did indeed get Christmas – where family and friends crowded around her while she held court from her bed, wearing a paper hat and a big grin while she opened presents and sipped a small glass of Prosecco. Then we got New Year’s Day, where the same friends and family gathered, but she was a bit weaker by then. No Prosecco. We were just glad she was still able to sip her apple juice through a straw and eat some soup. We’ve had my brother-in-law’s birthday, where she managed to eat a tiny sliver of chocolate cake, which she pronounced ‘lovely’. The state of the bed was less than lovely with all the crumbs, but no one really cared about that. Now she is at the stage of being fed ice cream and syringefuls of iced water or cranberry juice. She sleeps more and more, her wakenings more and more garbled from her morphine-induced dreams. But her pain, for now, is under control, the moments of frightened agitation have abated – mostly – and that’s really all we can hope for, as we try to carry on with as much normality as we can – me, my husband, and his brother, living in the family home together, waiting, every night, for the dreaded phone call.
In the meantime, we need to try to live our own lives. Luckily, I can work from home a lot of the time, and after a long break where my head just couldn’t deal with it, I am starting to fit in a bit of writing now and then. I’ve been reading, sometimes, but not reviewing – and I know I have missed lots of exciting book news. But it can wait. My publishers are gearing up for the release of my book in March, and there will be lots to do before and afterwards, but I have support both for the writing side of work, and my day job side of work, and I am getting there.
We will all get there.
It’s not all doom and gloom – there is a lot of time for reflection, catching up with friends in the area, walking in the countryside. I’m grateful to everyone who has contacted us via phone, email, text and private messages, sending their love and support. Thank you for thinking of us.
We are trying to look to the future. It will be a strange and difficult time for us all – afterwards – but all we can do is stick together, and stay hopeful that we can move on, but never forget the life and the love of a strong and beautiful woman.