Friday, April 13, 2007

All about my mother

You don't have to be particularly eagle-eyed to notice that it is a month since I posted last. This blog is by way of explanation, a completely off-topic diversion that I need to write. After all, blogs - even subject-specific blogs like this one - are filtered through their author's experience, are influenced by what is going on in the world.

So here we go then...

On 20th March my mother died... she was 82, had had a stroke, plus various "conditions", but in the final analysis, she died from "being in hospital". The first two causes of death on the certificate were "pneumonia" and "clostridium difficile". She caught the C.diff bug in hospital and, after two months' worth of antibiotics to (unsuccessfully) treat it, the drugs had no impact on the pneumonia. According to Radio 4, C.diff is mentioned in 1 in 250 death certificates in the UK. I also found out from the same radio programme - not the hospital - that you fight C.diff by washing with disinfectant, not by using the alcohol gel which stops MRSA. I never smelled disinfectant in her ward, just a sad, sickly mix of diarrhoea and vomit, with a side-order of nutrient-free hospital food. And a sticky floor. Those horror stories about elderly people with no relatives being treated badly: true. She probably would have died earlier if it hadn't been for the unstinting efforts of my sister Julia who was there every day, making sure that she hadn't pulled out her drips or was dying of dehydration.

Right, so I'm angry, which I didn't properly realise. Yes, she would have died anyway - but perhaps not for another year; yes, she was old; but - although some of the medical staff were great - many weren't. Some were caring, despite being harried and busy; others were arrogant shits for whom their patients seemed like so many lumps of meat. This partly to do with NHS lack of funds, but not all. Proper hospital cleaning would have helped and that does cost, but treating patients' relatives like they are incompetent morons has nothing to do with lack of money.

What about you?
I know that most people reading this, those whose mother is still alive, will be thinking of what is bound to happen eventually. As one of my friends said: "Your mother dying made me think of my own mother's death. And I simply couldn't bear it." Yes, and that thing you simply couldn't bear has to be borne anyway. And it seems unbearable whether or not your relationship was close and idyllic, or if you fought like cat and dog, or maintained a polite distance.
I know what the death of someone close is meant to make you think: about relationships being precious, about the necessity to carpe diem, and live life to the full. But what does that actually mean? I have always, constantly felt those things: how could it be otherwise, for someone whose father spent much of their childhood dying? I never felt that sense of immortality, that I and everyone I knew was going to live forever because we were young. But we all have to do things that are tiresome, not live to our fullest potential for a whole number of reasons, especially the time-consuming need to make ends meet. So how exactly do we "live life to the full"? I have to say, I'm buggered if I know.
There might be wisdom coming in the aftermath of death, but I certainly can't offer you any yet. Indeed, my main feeling is still that of disbelief. Is she really dead?
Below I've posted what the vicar read out at her funeral. She wasn't a churchgoer - she always said her Methodist upbringing was enough religion for anyone - and nor am I, but he was a very comforting vicar. A Welsh vicar, which - in suburban Essex - was simply serendipity. And we had "Land of our fathers" and "All through the night" sung by a Male Voice Choir, and Climb Every Mountain, from the Sound of Music which she loved.

Next time, back to bisexuality. Promise.

Patricia George, nee Lewis
23 May 1924 – 20 March 2007

There was never a time when we didn't know our mother was Welsh. Although she left South Wales to live in London in 1947 and her mother's family was originally from Devon, whenever asked our mother always said she was Welsh.

She grew up in Swansea and Haverfordwest with her sister Sylvia and went to university in Aberystwth to study Botany at 17, something that was unusual for a girl of her time and background. She had to take a break from her University studies for work of national importance during which she spent five months with the seed production office driving around the Pembrokeshire countryside in a land rover advising farmers - advice they sometimes didn't take to kindly to, particularly since she was only 21.

Her ambition was always to work at Kew Gardens and although it took her a year from her first application letter, and she had to take the Scientific Officer exam twice, she finally started work there in April 1947. She worked with the flora of many areas in the world, contributed to several papers and had a book published on British wild flowers. She always said how much she had enjoyed working there and how much it had lived up to her expectations.

She married our father Arthur George when she was 31 – at a time when many thought it was too late for her to have a family. Nevertheless, Susan was born in 1956 and Julia in 1961. It was during this time with help from family that they built their own home where they both lived almost to the end of their lives. She wrote weekly to her parents during this time letters full of the tales of normal family life and she often said that she enjoyed being a wife and mother.

In 1969, following a lengthy period of illness, both her father and then her husband died within three weeks of each other. Understandably, she found it difficult to deal alone with the responsibilities of home and children. In part because of this, our relationship with her as teenagers - in common with many families - was not always easy. But with the birth of Susan's son Alexis in 1984 she came into her own as a Grandma and the family became closer and happier again.

It was also during this time that her health improved and she found a renewed interest in the things that she had always enjoyed - the garden and birds, nature books, family history. She also travelled extensively.

In recent years as her health declined, she became more solitary, although she was always a person who had enjoyed her own company. She was also sometimes frustrated with her growing inability to do things. Despite this she still enjoyed time with her family and was always interested in Alexis' life.

Following a stroke at Christmas, combined with her existing health problems and several months in hospital, she became progressively weaker and developed pneumonia.

Perhaps as her children we underestimated the achievements of her life and didn't at the time appreciate the difficulties that faced her. Only with our own life experience have we developed more understanding and will miss her as a mother, grandmother, and for the person that she was.


Dandelion said...

Small world. Haverfordwest. My mother's family were from there, and thence, Devon.

I'm sorry for your loss.

That's so pants said...

I'm so sorry that your mother's life had to end like this Susan. My recent stint in hospital horrified me. The distinct lack of ANY cleaning equipment at all, much less disinfectant seemed like criminal negligence.

Having said that, I found this tribute to your mother very moving and enjoyed reading about her life.

Sue George said...

Thanks to both of you...

Nothing else to say, really, is there?