2016 for me like so many others was a roller coaster of a year. I had personal struggles with family, friends, work and ended up feeling very tired and alone by the end of the year.
In some respects it is a year I wish I would forget quickly but there are parts that I would like to remember forever.
I slowly watched my Nan deteriorate and waste away from a loving, bright, funny, big built woman to someone who weighed next to nothing, refused to eat or drink and behaved in increasingly strange ways.
The 2 weeks before she began the final decent were some of the weirdest with her behaviour being completely erratic. I remember my friend telling me she obviously had no intention of going quietly and she really didn’t.
But that last week, prompted by a fall took everything that she had left. The last 3 days a slow decent in front of our eyes, as she walked to the day room for lunch of a mouthful of soup and couldn’t walk back, but still had the manners to thank someone for handing her a napkin, to not eating at all to no longer being able to drink and finally not being able to move.
Yet I saw something the day before she finally decided to rest that I always hoped would be the case but didn’t dare to believe. On the Sunday I went to see my brother to tell him that Nan would be joining him soon and ask that he come back to be with her so she wasn’t alone on the journey. My Mum went to the home to visit her and it was the last cognitive day she really had, she was laughing and joking and they said it was like she didn’t have Alzheimer’s at all.
Cut to Wednesday the day after her last visit to the lunch hall and she was bedridden and almost completely out of it when I arrived to visit. I rang everyone and rallied the troops knowing in my heart looking at her that this was the end. We opened her christmas cards and she touched them as they were read out to her. I wrote out her card for Grandad and she almost managed to give it to him. I was hoping she would be able to make a mark on it at least but that wasn’t the case. He said she was following me with her eyes as I walked around and spoke to her so I think she was able to recognise movement at least.
At first she took sips of drink but as time passed she pushed my hand away when I tried so I let her be. My Grandad showed her the photos in the picture book I made her and she touched them even though I don’t think she could really see them.
Her eyes had glazed over by the time the others arrived, I don’t think she was following the light anymore. She still tried to move her legs a little bit in the bed.
But the most amazing part to me was how she reached out for something that wasn’t there. She did it a few times when we were alone. At one point she was facing my Grandad and I caught a word whispered on a outbreath ‘home’ the last word she ever said.
By the time my Mum got there she had reached out a couple of times and as I was telling her about it she seemed to do it again. But this time her eyes went as wide as they could, as if she had seen something that shocked her. That’s the moment she left us. Her spirit was taken home by the loved ones who returned to be with her.
Whatever you believe of life and death if you had seen her that day you would come to the same conclusion.
After that eye-opening moment she wasn’t really there. Her last day spent completely still with no recognition and air passing through her until my Mum and Grandad left and she finally decided to rest on 12th December 2016 at 3.50pm.
We waited until after Christmas to bury her. She is in the same cemetery as my brother now, something she would have liked. She is on the same hill looking down on him but still quite near given the 29 year gap in passing.
We had a lovely service for her. I wrote a eulogy that brought the essence of her 87 years to life and included her top phrases – ‘I’ll be singing in a minute’ when someone poured her a drink but we left her final farewell to what she wrote in birthday cards or what she’d say if she saw you drinking ‘don’t get drunk’.
So now we have to make sure that Grandad continues to carry on with life and picks himself up. I feel guilty that after not working for so long, I have to go back to work, and can’t spend as much time with him as I did last year. It’s hard but I’m not getting any younger and I need to move forward with my life.
I haven’t used my brain for work for so long that it’s turned to mush. The last year and a half of my life has been hospital appointments and healthcare. When I looked back over my 2016 calendar to transfer birthdays into the 2017 one I realised the sheer number of appointments we had.
I feel like most of last year I spent sitting in traffic in my car either going to or coming back from an appointment or visiting Nan. No wonder my body is so stiff and I’ve been getting back ache so much.
But 2017 will be a better year all round I hope. I hope to find a job that will give me some purpose in my life again. It will be good to not be a surrogate Mum to everyone and focus on myself for a while. Although I suspect I will still be expected to be the surrogate Mum.
I’ve been asked a lot over the last couple of weeks what I’m looking to do, now Nan has left me technically unemployed. I really don’t know. I haven’t made plans for myself for such a long time. I haven’t even dared to think about me and what I want as it felt selfish.
It’s funny how the more you do for people the less they realise or understand. I’m seen as the pathetic joke but really no one could or would do what I did. No one would put other people first the way I did. They see it as an excuse but it isn’t. I didn’t want to give up my life when I felt I was just starting to get somewhere. I was a victim of the circumstance and stepped up to the plate, allowing everyone else to carry on as they were. Some would say that deserved some recognition and appreciation.
2017 needs to be a year for me though. I need to start thinking about what I want to do and achieve. But honesty I have no idea where to start. I feel so tired and lonely, I don’t know who I can talk to anymore. Some of my friends became busy last year and didn’t seem to have time for me anymore. It’s a shame but its life. I know they’ll check in from time to time and I’ll see them sometime but it’s a bit sad too.
Maybe a new job will find me some more people to interact with and have fun. I’ve really missed not having people to laugh with and spend time getting me out of my mind and away from the routine. I have a part to play in some of it too. I didn’t always know what to say to people when my life was just one hospital appointment after another.
One of my biggest fears at the moment is attending interviews. I can’t remember half the stuff I’ve done and I’m worried my personal sabbatical will taint their view of me. I’m also worrying about finance and if I’m honest I’m worried to admit to myself that I’m alone and not just lonely. Accepting that is tough, but I just have to carry on regardless.
I also feel guilty. I feel like it’s my fault that Nan died because I didn’t do enough to save her, even though I know I did everything I could. I hate the fact the last words we spoke to each other were when I put her in the nursing home and she called me every name under the sun. When she begged me to take her home and I ran out and left her when she wasn’t looking because she had to adjust to the new surroundings and she would never understand.
I cried getting into the car that day. I had to turn myself away from her and me and Grandad stood looking at each other with tears in our eyes over the garden gate as we knew she would never be there again.
I stood at the curb outside the house on the day of the funeral waiting for the hearse to arrive and as I saw her slowly coming along the road I asked for her forgiveness.
I’ll never know if I really did enough or if the outcome was always going to be the same. Maybe all I did was buy her comfort and time. I just hope that 2017 forgives me and I get some peace.
I hope we all get some peace this year. I hope we all find what we are looking for and have the courage enough to go searching for it and work hard to secure it. Tell the people you love how you feel and take more photos because you never have enough. Make sure you write down all the special times or record them so you don’t forget. Live everyday to make you happy or at least find some small happiness. Life is too short to be unhappy and unloved. Love yourself and find your happiness.
That’s what I hope 2017 brings, love and happiness to us all.