So, where was I? Oh yes.........
It was 2:00 in the morning and David and I got a phonecall from his daughter saying that Charles (David's second oldest son) had been found dead in a hotel room in LAOS near the Cambodian border. Apparently, it was drink/drug related and he had been dead for a couple of days before he was found. Charles had been travelling alone for several weeks which he had done many times before, being quite an adventurer. He was writing a book about his thoughts and travels which was potentially a real winner. His writing ability was quite outstanding and the world has been deprived of this amazingly gifted young mans work.
As you may remember, his older brother James had died 6 years previously and this meant that David had now lost 2 children out of 4. This was quite unfathomable to me and I couldn't begin to understand how David could maintain any form of sanity at this time. Even though Charles and James were not my biological children, I had known them since birth and they had all grown up with my own kids. David and I had lived together for about 20 years by this time and what affected David affected me. I felt his pain as if it were my own. All I could do was to be there for him, to listen and to take myself totally out of the equation. I was fast learning that when someone you love dies, the focus should be on them and others, not you.
By this time, I was nearly 2 years sober and although the compulsion to drink had left me, I was still finding it quite difficult to cope with life in general. It felt as if I was being tested to see if I could deal with my newly found sobriety by throwing major emotional upsets my way. One hears all the time that personal growth is nearly always achieved through pain and in hindsight, this has proved so true.
On a lighter note, life was not all doom and gloom by any means! I had a healthy balance in my life by now and initially that was all due to my friend and housemate,Julian Bennett. He could not have come into my life at a better moment, when my daughter brought him home with her in June of 2006. When Charles died in 2007, Julian had been living with me for about a year and a half and he made me laugh on a daily basis. Not only that, but he cleaned, cooked, decorated, and took me out with him pretty much everywhere he went. We were fast becoming inseperable. David, Julian and I all lived together as a rather disfunctional family. David was the father, I was the mother, and Julian was our rather colourful, gay son.
For those of you who know nothing about Julian, I will fill you in to give you an idea of who and what he is. On a professional basis, he is a TV presenter who had found notoriety on a programme called "Queer Eye for a Straight Guy UK" several years before. He was the fashion expert on the show with his little dog LULU. On the surface, he was the camp funny one who enjoyed dressing up in stupid clothes and screeching at the top of his voice like a castrated chicken. Underneath, he was a kind, multi-talented macho kind of guy who could mend plugs, change tires, and chop down trees (all of which I have seen him do)! His desire to please others, his ability to make people laugh and his generosity of spirit are hard to come by these days, particularly in his field of work. He was the medicine I needed at this point in my life.
Anyway, not long after Charles died, my mother became terminally ill with Pulminary Fibrosis and yet again, I was to be tested. I decided that I would look after her in conjuction with other carers on shift work over the coming year. I had made her life a living hell in the past so I thought the least I could do was to give her some love back. She had been my rock for 58 years in spite of the fact that I had always thought it was my father who had been my only rock. I had always been a Daddy's Girl and had never really understood how my mother ticked and it is sad to say that I only just got to know her true self in her final year on earth.
So for the initial 4 months, I went over to her flat on a daily basis to keep her company, do her shopping, and chat about daily life and old times. She had to use oxygen 24 hours a day to breath but her mind was as sharp as it had always been. In the mean time, I was attending about 5 AA meetings a week, and whenever possible, painting the town red with Julian. I really needed that! As I said before, balance is the key to a happy life!
As time went on, my mother deteriorated. She became blind from a small stroke and could no longer watch TV or read a book. She would sit in her comfy chair in her living room from morning till night, waiting for me and the carers to pop their head in and her life couldn't have been more depressing. So it was decided that I would move in from Monday to Friday, with professional carers to cover the weekends.
Meanwhile, back at home, Julian ran my house like a well oiled clock. He baked cookies for my mum to try and fatten her up, and I went home each evening to have my gourmet supper cooked by him. Then I would go back to my mother's for the night.
It is so difficult to watch your mother fade away in front of your eyes, especially when she has never been sick in her life. I only remember her having a cold once since I was a child. Now she was totally helpless even though her mind was the same as always. She never complained and she was never self pitious. In fact, she was more concerned that I was holding up emotionally and that I was getting enough sleep. She didn't want me to live on my nerves and was petrified that I would start drinking again. I promised her that I wouldn't and I have kept that promise to this day.
There were happy times to be had as well whilst I was caring for my mother. Every night, I would take her false teeth out and clean them but instead of making it embarrassing for her, I would make it a hysterically funny ritual. I would sing silly songs whilst doing it, and on occasion take photos of her and me pulling faces and sculpting ridiculous hairstyles. These times I will remember with a smile on my face and I am so happy to have those memories.
In the last few weeks of her life, things were not so frivolous of course. She became incontinent and I had to change her clothes and bedsheets regularly. For a woman of such poise and elegance, it was humiliating for her. As her daughter, I just loved her all the more. But at the same time, it was probably the strangest and saddest thing I have ever had to do. She confided in me that she had lost her faith and was quite honestly terrified of dying - not death itself, but the bit leading up to it. I felt completely helpless as all I wanted to do was to take that fear away from her but I couldn't.
In the end, she died at home with all of us around her. She had gone into a coma in the morning and at 5:58 sitting around her bed watching "Eggheads" (her favourite programme), I looked down and saw that she had stopped breathing. She had taken her last breath only seconds after the programme had finished. Hopefully she had heard the answer to the final question. It would have annoyed her no end if she hadn't.
Once again, I didn't pick up a drink but I felt my life couldn't be worse.