If you’re reading this its because you are someone I consider a close enough friend, and I trust you enough, that I’m finally willing to unveil the truth about parts of me and my history that I’ve kept under wraps for a very long time, and for the most part have found very difficult to talk about and have instead preferred to shut away in a dark corner of my mind where it can’t come out to hurt me. Most of the time.
I apologise in advance if at times this seems jumbled, it’s really just spilling out my thoughts and my story best as I can. You are a friend, and I value your friendship, and its quite possible I may need that friendship and support more than ever over the coming months.
You may have noticed at times over the last year, and I’ve alluded to it a couple of times on social media, about struggling with some mental health aspects and anxiety. This really is the cause of most of it, and I apologise for those times I may have seemed distant, or moody, or grumpy, it really isn’t you.
This story, I guess, mostly comes into two parts, so let me start.
First – the ultimate truth – I am a child of alcohol abuse.
Imagine, if you will, a child, aged just six or seven, who assumes everyone’s mum keeps a glass of cider, or beer, or whatever, in a kitchen cupboard whilst doing the ironing. Out it comes, take a sip, back in the cupboard. Or in the airing cupboard whilst clothes are being put away, or in a bedside table, or even at work when the kids are off school with no-one else able to take them and the bosses aren’t around.
You assume its normal, because its your mum, and at that age you know no better. You grow up of course, and realise it isn’t normal at all, and that no-one else’s mum does that. They drink tea, or coffee, or juices and water.
My mum has hardly ever eaten anything either, I can remember the dinners for me and my sister would be fairly basic, my dad would come home from work and have a normal dinner, then my mum wouldn’t eat anything and later in the evening would have just a sandwich at most, with a glass of alcohol of course.
My dad, for a long time, was blissfully unaware, like the rest of us, of how much of a problem there was.
I think me and my sister were for the most part, relatively protected, but there became a period where my dad realised more and more that there was a problem – there was a time a schoolfriend’s mum told him his kids had been picked up from school with their mum’s breath smelling of booze, or the times credit card bills increased more and more and the statements were going missing.
This all gradually started to come to a head when I was about 11 or 12, and my parents’ marriage was definitely showing the strain from this. We had a family holiday to Majorca where my mum was ordering 2 mini bottles of brandy on the 6am flight out of the UK, and then spent most of the holiday drinking every day and night. Blazing rows occurred, me and my sister hated it and were upset by it, and my dad must have felt a very very lonely man.
My dad has talked to me on this recently, about everything he tried to keep things normal. He tried persuading my mum to stop, or to only drink in the evenings, or weekends if she must, but nothing ever really took effect.
It was the 2001/02 school year that everything fell apart. I remember one evening where my mum was her usual drunk self, and there was a blazing row, and it was at that point my parents’ marriage was over – I remember my dad saying he didn’t want a divorce as he wanted to keep the kids together with their parents, but that they were effectively over. I don’t blame my dad for this and I never have done for further reasons I’ll get to later no doubt – but obviously at 12 years old whose happy home life has been gradually deteriorating, to then have it blown open like that was pretty devastating.
From thereon in, things just went out of control. Mum’s drinking became ever more open, ever more frequent, to the point I doubt she was ever sober that much.
Some of these next memories, and the exact order in which they occur, have become a bit fuzzy over time, but at the same time are impossible to forget.
Firstly, there was the time after a row where my dad tried to leave the house and drive somewhere just to get away, and my mum tried to chase him out of the house and then grab on to the car as he tried to drive away, before inevitably being dragged along the pavement slightly, cutting her feet open, until my dad then stopped as he realised just what she had been trying to do, at which point they came back in and he tended to her wounds.
Then there were the times she went missing. Three times I remember this happening. The first time I can’t really remember much about, but she basically disappeared from the house without anyone knowing, leaving my dad to then be driving around random streets and lanes around Wellingborough and the surrounding countryside trying to find her. On this occasion, she came back home.
The second time I can never forget – this would have been about November 2001. It was a Sunday – I was due to play a football match over at Higham Ferrers (this would have been a U-13 junior match) and after another row my mum had just disappeared again, this time threatening we would never see her again.
I always was a timid kid and at the time a bit of a mummy’s boy, and following this I ended up having my grandparents (on my mum’s side) taking me to Higham to play in the match whilst my dad was left again searching the roads for wherever my mum could have disappeared to, this time with the police involved too. Obviously, I could not focus on the match at all, being absolutely terrified at what was happening and where my mum was. Bizarrely, if I remember right, we actually won the game and I played OK, but I had to do so with all of that going on in the background, with no teammates or manager having a clue.
This time it was the police who found my mum – parked down a random country lane somewhere (I never have been told where exactly…) in the car, with it full of brandy, and also packs of tablets. Whether she ever fully intended to try and kill herself, I don’t know and don’t really need to, but she was of course arrested for drink driving, but then rather than going to court was actually sectioned under the Mental Health Act and sent to a rehab place in Northampton, whilst also banned from driving for 2 years.
I remember in some respects feeling quite happy at this when we went to go see her at rehab – even naïve 12 year old me by this point knew things were out of control, but we thought this would be the place to get sorted, to stop it, and to go back to being a normal happy family. She was on a course of medication of tablets that were supposed to stop you wanting to drink, or to make you sick if you did.
This of course, if you haven’t guessed by now, is not what happened at all. She left rehab, stopped taking the tablets, told everyone she was fine, then carried on exactly as before.
The third time was the most
explosive…or upsetting. It was a Tuesday night, and at this point my aunt
(dad’s sister) had come up to stay with us to try and help the family out
whilst my mum kept being unstable. I remember having Sky Sports on in the
lounge keeping track of football scores (QPR were playing at Cardiff that
night, and were 2-0 up before throwing it away to draw 2-2 in typical QPR
fashion…) whilst me and my sister had the door shut to try and avoid hearing
another row breaking out, this time with my aunt involved as well.
And then…she just left, again. Except this time on foot as she couldn’t drive. Cue another search, with emergency services involved, and then another time being dragged home, this time by the ambulance service. By this time it was probably around 11pm, and I remember being on the bannister watching the next unfolding scene through floods of tears, with my mum quite simply abusing the ambulance staff, swearing at all and sundry, whilst increasingly exasperated and frustrated paramedics simply want to get rid of this drunk crazy woman.
Again, getting a bit fuzzy on the exact timelines, but it would have been around this time that enough was enough, and with divorce proceedings on the way we got to a point where on a Sunday, we all moved out – me & my sister went to my grandparents in Ringstead (about 20 mins from Wellingborough), my dad moved back in with his parents. This was in the run-up to my sister’s GCSE’s, whilst for me it was just regular year 8 work. My grandparents drove us to school and back from their village (approximately a 30 mile round trip) every day for 6 weeks whilst we stayed there. Again, no-one at school knew, no teachers, no friends, no-one except the family. I never felt able to tell anyone.
After 6 weeks me & my sister moved back home – we never should have done in hindsight – but my grandparents felt we should go back home to mum. Dad stayed with his parents for good then until the divorce was finalised – a bloke in his early 40s having to live with his parents after his marriage had collapsed! I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for him.
The period from moving back in to my parents’ divorce finally being finalised was terrible – my sister is much fierier than me (in fact given how timid I am for conflict she’s probably got enough fight for the pair of us!) and she’d be much more open with my mum about all her drink problems and would confront her every night and there’d be huge rows. I’d get more upset at this, and would get to a point where when my mum was laid out comatose most nights would sneak around the house finding all the alcohol I could and pouring it down the sink thinking if she couldn’t drink it she wouldn’t drink at all. Of course that’s terribly naïve and not how it worked at all, she just bought more the following day, but at that age I felt desperate enough to do anything.
It was June 2002 my parents’ divorce finally went through – my mum had bought a new house on the next estate up – probably about a 15 minute walk away – with the separation proceeds, and our dad came home.
For the first 6 weeks of my parents’ separation, I was probably round my mum’s new house every day. After everything that had gone I was terrified of what might happen if she was left on her own too much. I helped her with decorating stuff, painting stuff, buying stuff for the house, I would cycle there every day and spend loads of time there.
The problem was, whilst all this was going on, she was still bombarding our house, and my dad, with phonecalls, begging to be taken back, saying she missed everyone, threatening to kill herself if we didn’t do anything, and obviously this upset me hugely.
Things came to an ultimate head, and this has changed my relationship with my mum forever, on the night before my 13th birthday. It was a Friday night, another night where she’d been bombarding the house, my dad asked her to stop ringing, I spoke to her a few times, begging her to stop, she was threatening again to kill herself and was whispering “goodbye” down the phone. I wanted to go straight over, but of course my dad (and quite rightly looking back) stopped me as I was upset enough as it was and couldn’t deal with it all on my own. My dad took it as attention seeking and was distraught himself at how upset his kids were getting, and after trying to tell her to stop ringing because of how upset I was, eventually took the phone off the hook, leaving me with a sleepless night.
The following day, my actual 13th birthday, I remember my dad taking me to Northampton to go buy some video games, before we then stopped at mum’s house to make sure she was reasonably ok. The house was full of empty bottles, and tablet boxes, and she was very very shaky and frail that particular morning. I do wonder just how close she did come to actually killing herself on this occasion. We helped tidy all the mess away before dad left me to spend an afternoon with mum, but that was the relationship changed forever – from that point on my contact with her got more and more distant, very much keeping it at arm’s length.
I really did this to protect myself – the above all sounds a bit of a character assassination of my mum. Of course she wasn’t always like that, there have been times when she’s been a great, normal, loving mum. But ultimately, everything in her life has always played second fiddle to alcohol, and her need for it, and I think that was the moment I ultimately realised that, and the only way to protect myself from more upset and strife, was to step away and leave her to her own devices – only one person could make the change with that relationship with alcohol, and it wasn’t me no matter how much I thought I could at that age.
That really is part 1 of my story
– the rest of my life up to now I have had a very distant relationship with my
mum – both my parents re-married – I’ve never had a particularly close
relationship with my step-dad – he’s 20 years older than my mum and has always
been a nice enough bloke and kind to me, but with all the damage with my own
relationship with my mum I’ve never been close to him as a result.
My step-mum on the other hand has always been fantastic – as me and my sister stayed with my dad after their separation she came into our lives and helped stabilise them, and help bring us back as a normal family. She’s also normal thank God. She’s never tried to replace our mum, but she’s always been a fantastic mothering influence that I’ve never really had since my parents separated.
So if you’ve ever wondered about the exact reasons I don’t drink and never will – the above pages give you that explanation. Quite frankly, I’ve seen enough of its affects to last me a lifetime. I know that one drink, even getting drunk on occasion, won’t lead to someone going that out of control, but to be honest it’s never given me any inclination to even try.
If I dig deep into my psyche – I can really pinpoint it into two areas. I have seen alcohol change my mum’s demeanour from my soft, loving mum, into an unrecognisable monster out to destroy everything, and out of control of what they are doing.
- I hate the idea of not being in control of what I’m doing
- I hate the idea of who I could be when drunk – I have a wry smile when people tell me they’d love to see me when drunk – I don’t hold anything against them for this, they aren’t to know, but genuinely I have no interest in meeting him and am quite happy with who I am.
I also don’t want anyone reading this to think they need to feel sensitive about drinking around me – to be quite honest I don’t really care what other people do – it’s your life to lead as you wish, you drink as much as you like, I will help make sure you get home safe if its needed, and quite simply I enjoy your company whether you’re drinking a glass of water or a pint of finest bitter. All I’ve ever been bothered about is that people respect my lifestyle choice – which to be fair they always have (with the exception of my university football team, if you ever wish to know why I didn’t enjoy the university experience…).
Before I move onto part 2, I want to put a bit of detail on my relationship with my dad, as a contrast to the one with my mum.
Put simply, my dad is my hero. I’ll try not to write too long on it but again so you help understand my psyche…
- With everything that went on, he did his best to keep us a family of four as long as he could, before he just couldn’t take any more. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to see your family life shatter apart like it did.
- In the time me & my sister were at my grandparents, he still came and saw us as much as he could. He took us on holiday to Devon to visit my aunt, he even would just pick us up and take us to the nearest McDonald’s just to have an evening dinner with his kids.
- When the divorce was going through, and he feared he’d have to sell the family house to pay for everything, he found a smaller house on the same street we lived on so we could stay in the same area because he knew how upset I was at the thought of leaving our area.
- In the end, he took on loads of debt to re-mortgage the house to the hilt so the three of us could stay in the family home, and he nearly took on a second job at a Tesco Express to help pay for it (in the end, he didn’t need to do that, but the fact he was willing to make that sacrifice means the world).
- We always joke about it in the family now – but he became a master in making mashed potato from Cadbury’s Smash powdered mash – simply to keep trying to give his kids as normal meals as he could whilst working 45 hour weeks. It’s bloody horrible stuff, give me real mash anyday! But it’s the sentiment and what it means that keeps it special still. Can’t eat it now mind.
- He kept taking me to QPR – giving me some sense of normality, continuity and Father/Son days out. So many things change in life but your football team never does – and even now for me the Father/Son days at football remain special and our time together. He’s 60 next year, so hopefully around for a long time yet, but genuinely I’m not sure if I could face going on my own as and when he is no longer around.
- We don’t always agree on everything, but ultimately he is the rock that has helped keep my life together when I so easily could have fell apart as that timid little 12 year old in 2002.
- I will never ever blame him for what happened to us – the drinking started long before he met mum, and carried on long after.
- He is a soppy git and that has passed onto me…
So let’s move onto part 2, and forward 15 years, to what has been given me anxious days and nights over the past 12 months…
In the years between 2002 and 2017, my relationship with mum has always remained at arms length. She’s still done stuff – she used to buy me ready meals from Iceland to take to university, I’d normally see her for dinner a few times a year, and would see her on Christmas Eve every year and around Easter, but that relationship with alcohol has always been bubbling away in the background. I’d always be anxious of what state she may be in. It’s an unspoken, unseen thing sometimes, but always there.
Over time of course, I met Vicky, the first person I shared all my history and experiences with. Vicky of course, being as wonderful aged 17 as she is 28, took it all in her stride and whilst I’ve mostly tried to protect her from witnessing the worst of my mum’s excesses, she’s still seen them from time to time. Especially when we’ve seen her in the evenings when she has been drinking, or I’ve received snarky texts or comments about dad. We’ve developed a rule between us to not contact her after 7pm, and trying to avoid seeing her in the evenings. Feels terrible to say doesn’t it really?
You may remember one of the stories I tell from our wedding quite frequently in regards to the macarena and seeing my mum the other side of the window all red faced, and drunk, doing the macarena back at me. It is so indelibly printed on my mind as it was another occasion where she was wildly drunk and I feared where she might go with it. Nowhere, thankfully that time, but I’ve still always had that anxiety of being around her in that state and the unpredictability that goes with it.
Around October 2017, having been ill for most of the year, my step-dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I feared the worst – he was 80 years old – the survival chances are hardly great. With everything having been stable (or as stable as it ever could be) for so long, I feared how my mum would cope with things changing, especially if it proved fatal.
Terribly, as it has proved.
Firstly, she stopped going to work, then lost her job. The car stopped being driven. My dad, whilst not in contact, would occasionally see her walking around Wellingborough town centre and where she lives whilst doing his part-time semi-retirement job – and wondered why she was walking to town and not driving. He speculated whether she’d been banned again (which would also explain why she stopped working given she was in Northampton). I’ve wondered this too and am not exactly sure what the truth is, and nor have I ever got a straight answer when trying to pry. I’m not really sure I want to know.
Early on in my step-dad’s cancer treatment, he had a particularly adverse reaction to his chemo and ended up contracting sepsis, and did nearly died. He thankfully recovered, but this seemed to trigger a complete collapse in my mum’s mental state.
She has been refusing to leave the house, at any point in the day, except for going to my step-dad’s hospital and chemo visits with him for his treatment. His treatment has actually, pleasantly surprisingly, gone remarkably well. He hasn’t got the all clear as such and I don’t think he ever will, but as far as I am aware everything has regressed sufficiently that he can go about living a normal life, something he has been determined to do in leading an active a life as possible.
My mum on the other hand – has just got worse and worse. She has clearly completely failed to deal with my step-dad’s illness, and I can understand how difficult it can be to deal with, but as he’s got better she’s got worse and I really struggle to get my head around that.
I’ve been trying to keep in contact as much as I can since I became aware (around January this year) of how much she was collapsing – texts during the week – which have tailed off recently – trying to see her most Saturday’s I’m going down to football (Kettering parkrun Mum’s house QPR) and each week I’m fairly fearful of what I may see.
Up to this summer she wasn’t great, but doing reasonably OK. But I now haven’t seen my step-dad there since about June time. Mum’s drinking has again been getting increasingly worse and worse. She’s not been eating. She has been losing weight rapidly, now looks incredibly gaunt and pale, and is spending most of the time drinking.
My sister visited in the late summer and went upstairs to use the loo and saw empty bottles of cider everywhere. My understanding is my step-dad has had enough and has been spending as much time out of the house as he can (he’s now 81 and has just finished a rigorous round of chemotherapy and effectively has the “all clear” to live as normally as he can – he doesn’t really need a self-destructing wife on his hands as harsh as that sounds).
My last 2 visits have been scarier.
Firstly, last week (15 Dec) – she was thinner and paler than ever, had the heating on full blast whilst being wrapped up to the nines complaining of being cold (not eating!) and had died her hair bright orange which clashed horribly whilst saying she did it because she wanted to and people had been horrible to her all her life (I never asked who/what she was referring to – it feels terrible to say but ultimately I feel she has been the master of her own demise).
Secondly, today – I had Vicky with me this time and was shocked. In the space of 8 days, she had gone grey/yellow, was shuffling around the house slowly like a frail woman 20 years her senior. She didn’t really seem interested in us being there long, or particularly with it either. I am seriously concerned she is seriously physically ill, but am utterly helpless in being able to do anything about it.
The thing with an addict is they will always reject any help, until they admit there is a problem. My sister has an even more distant relationship with my mum as she is far more blunt to her about her problems – which just leads to them arguing and my mum shutting her off. I’ve tried the more softly softly approach of being approachable, being in touch, being available to help with anything, but until my mum ever asks for help and wants to change, know nothing ever will change.
I fear it is now too late, four decades of alcohol abuse has taken its toll and I could get *that* call at any point in the near future. I may do, I may not and it may have been a particularly bad day today, I really don’t know, but I was very shaken at what I saw and don’t really know how to handle it.
I’ve had to spend the last 12 months confronting ghosts I’ve hidden and bottled away for the best part of 15 years and at times I’ve felt it a struggle to do so. I went through all of this 15 years ago and never really want to again. This isn’t a plea on my part to get lots of “are you OK?” messages – as long as I have Vicky, my remaining family and my friends, I always will be. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t have days where I feel anxious about it all and can struggle a bit, or are haunted by demons of the past, which you may or may not have noticed at times. Every time I see my mum becomes one of those days at the moment. Regardless of distant relationships, she’s still my mum and she is withering away before my eyes, but what can I do? Is there more I can do? I don’t know, and it frightens me.
I feel I’ve had to hide my past and my mum’s addiction for most of my life. I guess out of a sense of shame and embarrassment, I’m not sure. I’m not sure I can really hide it any more either. I don’t really know if it makes me a bad son or not either.
I kind of feel envious of those friends who have normal relationships with their mum – I haven’t had that for a long long time. Since my parents separated, I have never once spent a night in the same house as my mum. As said – my step-mum is ace and always has been, but she still isn’t my mum. Me and dad have talked about this a lot in the past year and he gets it.
My dad dug out some old family videos recently of when me and my sister were really young – well before any of this kicked off. I actually found it quite hard to watch – the difference in my mum from then to now is astounding (physically, mentally, everything). It was also hard to watch such a happy young family of 4 with no idea of all the hurt and strife that lay ahead of it.
Now, I know I have this reputation for essays, but even 8 pages of rambling is quite some going for me. As said above, I’m sending you this purely because I can’t and don’t want to hide my past anymore, and I trust you enough to be able to open up about it.
I’ll stop now but know this – I am fine, I value your friendship, and whilst I have no idea what the immediate future holds I’m sure I can rely on your continued support and friendship.
This is quite possibly the most exposed I’ve ever made myself feel! But I need to do it.
The above was written on Sunday 23rd December after the particularly difficult visit mentioned above.
My mum died just 11 days later on Thursday 3rd January 2019, one day before her 61st birthday.
It all happened very quickly, and all fell apart very quickly – at Christmas my mum and step-dad were at my Grandparents in Ringstead and I later learnt that was a visit that went very, very badly. I’ve never been told exactly what happened but I suspect there were some disputes where my mum was challenged over what was happening, and an argument with my step-dad about whether he was helping her, they left on Boxing Day then promptly went missing for 2 days.
I found this out on 27th December, after me & Vicky had spent Christmas at home with her parents. My grandparents were unable to contact my mum, and nor was I despite efforts to do so. On 28th December my mum was seriously ill at home and after much panicking by my step-dad an ambulance was called to the house, only for her to refuse all offers of treatment by paramedics who were left with no choice but to leave her back at home.
I only found out about all this after it happened after I’d had more unsuccessful attempts to contact my mum and called my Grandad. He’d been told that she’d had some blood tests taken and he was waiting for results to be called back through to him but given what happened I’m not sure if he was in fact just fobbed off a bit by either my mum or step-dad. He said he tried to talk to her on the phone whilst the paramedics were there but could only get “Shut up!” as a response.
The 29th December was a Saturday – I was due at QPR – I travelled down to Wellingborough early to try and see if I could visit the house. I got there, knocked on the door twice, stood for nearly 10 minutes but had no response from anyone. With no idea if there was actually anyone there or not, I put a note through the door addressed to my step-dad telling him I knew what was going on and to contact me if there was anything I could assist with. He’s not the greatest at communication. Even at this point I had no inkling of what was to come.
That evening, on my way back from London, I had a phonecall from my step-dad saying he had received my note, and that my mum had finally been admitted to hospital (Kettering General) that morning, which is why I had no response to me knocking the door. Initially he said I should perhaps leave it a few days, but I definitely wasn’t having that anymore and agreed me & Vicky would go down the next day. We were meant to be entertaining my dad/step-mum and step-brothers and their families that day but we had to cancel all of that.
We went down the following day and met him at hospital. He took us through to the ward where my mum was – at that point it was just a general ward where people go when they are first admitted to have various tests done and receive general treatment whilst it is decided where they go next. At this point my mum was hooked up to various drips, was severely thin and poorly coloured, incredibly frail and whilst recognising us was very disorientated. So much so that she kept hearing things we didn’t say, and whilst drifting in and out of sleep told us she could feel her cat sitting at the end of the bed.
We had a chat with the doctor who told us the treatment she was having – namely that she was extremely malnourished so was being drip fed vitamins/proteins etc whilst also having her stomach flushed out. At that point they couldn’t tell us anymore but hoped to move her to the gastrointestinal ward. He was estimating a stay of about 4-5 days.
There was one point whilst we were there that she kept telling us all to go, though we didn’t. She also refused to eat any of the lunch that she was served, despite the state she was in.
We spent about 5 and a bit hours there in the end. When we left my mum did manage to sit up to give us a hug which was nice, and it would end up being the last time we’d actually speak to her or have a hug.
New Year’s Eve was back to being a normal working day so me & Vicky returned to Leicester and went to work. Still no real inkling of what was to come. I spoke to my step-dad that evening who told me she had finally been moved to the gastro unit, and had also spoke to a counsellor about her alcohol problems. That was a concern of ours at one point – what happens after? It was all very well being in hospital and being treated but I was sceptical that unless something really changed dramatically my mum wouldn’t come out and go straight back to how she was.
We celebrated New Year at home quietly, and planned to go down the following afternoon for visiting hours in the gastro unit.
New Year’s Day came and we had a happy morning running a parkrun double in Leicester, talking in fairly general terms to friends about my mum being in hospital and going down to visit that afternoon. We travelled back down to Kettering and made our way up to the gastro ward, only to find no sign of my mum anywhere, not even a name listed on the patient boards that are up in the reception areas (that oddly the staff tell you off for reading even though it’s fixed to the wall in plain sight!) We asked a nurse if they knew where my mum could be, and they responded that my mum had been taken down to the Intensive Therapy Unit overnight and had my dad (or step-dad as it was) not told me? No, as it was.
Now, rather naively, we had no idea what the ITU was. Or more to the point we didn’t realise it was the slightly softer name given for the Intensive Care Unit. We made our way to the unit, only realising what it was when we got to the door and had to press a buzzer to be asked to be let in. My step-dad met us at the door looking very fearful and telling us to brace ourselves. Heart pumping, we followed him in and at the far ward was my mum in one of the intensive care beds, unconscious, tubes everywhere, plugged up to various machines which it only cottoned on over the next few hours were actually life support units.
It turned out in the early hours of New Year’s Day, whilst doing the rounds on the gastro ward, a nurse had found my mum on her side, having vomited, and in a very poor state of health and at that point was rushed down to ICU. They tried to call my step-dad to tell him, but as it was 5am he didn’t hear the phone and didn’t receive any message as the answer machine didn’t work (which the hospital didn’t know about) so he had no idea she’d been moved either until he got there.
At this point I was really fearful and started to suspect things were only going to head one way from here.
The nurse on duty overseeing my mum briefly told us what was happening – namely that her liver had failed as had various other bits, but they weren’t sure if it was an infection or something worse than that. She had also been for a headscan before we got there. Although not conscious, we were told she could still hear so were encouraged to try and talk to her, although that is a very very strange thing to try and do.
Later that afternoon the doctor from the gastro unit came down and talked to us further about what was happening. Although I had started to fear it, the next bit that came from him hit me like an absolute steam train – the chances were that my mum wasn’t going to survive and the organ failure would likely to be fatal.
That is probably one of the worst sentences you could ever hear – and even though I was starting to fear it just from the situation my mum was in – when you actually hear someone else say it can really knock you sideways.
We cried, we all cried, the doctor said he was sorry and that the main consultant for the A&E unit would see us soon. I then had to get in touch with my sister in Belgium to relay the news and tell her she needed to get to the UK ASAP. She arrived the following day.
There was nothing to do other than sit at her bedside for as long as possible after that – the consultant came at about 6pm and sat us down and told us the full prognosis. He confirmed what the earlier gastro doctor had said – her organs had completely failed and whilst they were going to try some dialysis treatment on the kidneys to see if they could kickstart some recovery, which could lead to some overall recovery, it was very unlikely and we should prepare ourselves that within 48 hours my mum would pass away. He advised that she was not going to be a candidate for transplant – the timelines were too narrow, her overall health wasn’t good enough and of course the history with alcohol abuse would count against her. I had no issue with this – truth be told it never even crossed my mind that it would be a viable option. He also advised there was a chance my mum’s heart could just stop at any point, and if that happened they wouldn’t look to resuscitate, again she wasn’t strong enough to be able to cope and it wouldn’t be humane. Very sobering stuff.
At this point I then had to make the worst phone call it is probably possible to make – I had to call my grandparents to tell them what was happening, and chances are she wouldn’t be coming out alive. Regardless of how it comes about, every child should someday have to deal with a parent dying – that’s the nature of life. What shouldn’t be happening is for a parent to have to deal with the imminent death of their child. To do so, and to communicate that news, is to be quite frank absolutely heartbreaking.
I also then called my sister, to confirm what was likely going to happen, and then finally my dad. Although they have been separated for 16 and a half years now he still needed to know, and in addition I needed my dad.
We arrived at KGH that afternoon only expecting a visit of a few hours and in the end were nearly there for seven. We were also given parking permits for the hospital that enabled us to come and go as much as we wanted for 7 days without needing to pay a single day charge every day. In the circumstances, we were also allowed to be sat in the ICU outside of normal visiting hours and were given the option of staying in the family rooms they have available there – although we didn’t take this option in the end as we felt it would be a bit too intense.
That night we went to see my grandparents, then finally onto my dad, and stayed there overnight. After the day we had had I alone just needed some family support. We stayed with my dad that night to be closer to Kettering in case anything happened overnight – in fact I was expecting it to given what the consultant had told us. I had my phone next to my bed, and barely slept that night expecting a call at anytime. In the event, no call came.
January 2nd ended up being a bit of a non-event. We got to hospital as early as we could – my sister arrived at about 2pm in the afternoon, my mum was hooked up to a dialysis machine all day, she was unconscious still, but actually nothing happened. We were there for nearly 10 hours, I managed to get through nearly 2 books, and left actually feeling more relaxed than we had the previous day. I still knew it was likely to end badly, in fact the longer treatment went on with little happening it was likely something big had to happen – you can’t be hooked up to life support for an indefinite period – but it did feel a little bit like some sort of stability (spending this level of time in a hospital is a proper strange time warp experience), even though we knew that chances were a decision would have to be made the following day. It seemed even the hospital staff felt more relaxed as they asked us to keep visiting hours to just the normal ICU hours the following day (2pm onwards). Me and Vicky returned to Leicester and planned to go to work the following day.
THE phonecall then came at 4.15am the following morning. No good phonecall is ever received at 4am. We were asked to get to KGH as soon as we could. My sister was staying at my dad’s, so I then had to call her to tell her it was time. We then found ourselves driving down the M1 from Leicester to Kettering, managing to arrive around 5.30am, very much driving there as quickly but safely as possible.
We got there and the nurse on duty advised us that my mum had stopped breathing for herself just before 4am. From that point on, all of the “breathing” was machine only. Her blood pressure had dropped to dangerously low levels, her heart rate gradually getting slower. It was time.
But again, we actually had to wait til 8am when the consultants were due into work before anything more could happen as they had to make the final decision what to do. Eventually, that time came around and the consultant came in and asked us how we felt about switching the equipment off. There’s no easy answer to that question. Realistically, we knew there was no option but you always hold on to some hope. There was none. There was 5 of us there – my step-dad, me & Vicky and my sister and her partner. So we agreed to it.
It took just 15 minutes for my mum to pass away – my sister held one hand, I held the other, whilst my step-dad held her head. It was quiet, it was peaceful. All the equipment got turned off in full (even the ones showing heart rate/blood pressure – which makes perfect sense as otherwise you’d just be watching those but when all you’ve ever experienced is what you see on TV you assume it is all kept on still).
Overall, it was heartbreaking. I was emotionally exhausted. You’re left with a feeling of “what’s next?”
In the 6 weeks that have passed since, as well as coming to terms with everything I’ve done a bit of soul searching and have reconciled myself to the following:-
- Something major happened within my mum’s body in the week between me seeing her in mid-December and just before Christmas – I suspect between then was when her liver began to fail. Could she still have been saved at that point if she’d accepted treatment? I don’t know is the honest answer, but the ultimate point is she didn’t accept treatment when she had the chance and never really tried to address the issue throughout her life so I’ve reconciled myself to the fact it’s a moot point
- Should I feel angrier at my step-dad for what happened? Certainly some family members are angry – my grandparents feel he abandoned my mum to her own devices by being out of the house every day after all the support she gave him for her treatment, even to the point I’ve had a cousin of my mum’s asking me if I was going to get the coroner involved into investigating the circumstances of her death because they think he helped her commit suicide. Just what I wanted to be dealing with in the immediate aftermath! In truth, I don’t feel anger or resentment toward him – my mum has lived that life all her life and I feared it would always catch up with her eventually. Was he in denial and not realising what was going on? Almost certainly. I am certain there was never any malice intended – he was just as devastated as us in hospital and started to blame himself for what happened. I don’t think he has any blame to shoulder.
- Should I have been more direct with my mum over the last 12 months? There’s a real one that has been eating away at me – my sister tried it and got rebuffed though. In reality I think me & Vicky did our best to just be a good son and daughter-in-law by always being in contact and being available to help if it was wanted. It was never asked for. I think if we had tried to confront her more we would also have pushed away – I tried the more direct approach as a child and that damn near ruined me. It’s horrible to say but my mum made her own choices and there was nothing I could do to change that.
- Finally, how do I feel about losing my mum to alcoholism at just 60? I have a mixture of feelings. Sadness, naturally, at losing a parent. I rarely feel anger ever, but there is a level of anger and resentment that it is to something so avoidable – for a disease like cancer you can curse bad luck and say “why me?” but for alcoholism…it’s such a waste. Regret..or certainly a level of sadness that my mum will never see any grandkids, from either me or my sister as we are both childless currently. I’m not really sure how I will approach the subject with my own children one day either, that they will have a grandparent they will never know, but who they need to know so much about, the good and the bad.
- Overall, I feel I’ve long reconciled myself to my life’s experiences – I don’t feel I need counselling as such but I feel I can be more open and free about it now. Ultimately, I still loved my mum very much and the best way I feel I can honour her memory is to live the best life I can, and if there is ever anything I can do to help people who have gone through what I have then I’d be very much open to it.