Lordy, lord. MONTHS of silence, and now you can't shut the girl up.
This is mainly because as I mentioned last week, I have finally finished the rewrites on the new book, now entitled A Merry Little Christmas. I'm waiting for the final final round of rewrites, and am allegedly getting going on the new book, Midsummer Magic, but you know me... Procrastination is my middle name, so here I am instead. Plus, finally after many months I feel a little as if I've got my blogging mojo back.
There are lots of reasons, why it disappeared. The main one being, that creatively my heart and soul has been swallowed up by the Book for the last few months, but also, I think I've been in a period of deep mourning, from which I hope I am just emerging. Losing Rosemarie has affected me more then I thought it would. She was such a huge part of our family life - for years she came to us every Sunday for lunch, and in the last couple of years, we pushed her down the road in her wheelchair, and took her into our garden, so she could enjoy the fresh air, as she couldn't get out on her own. Every time I am in the garden, I see her sitting there, enjoying watching the children play, feeling the breeze on her face, and taking a much more animated interest in the doings of the guinea pigs then I ever do. I miss her more then I can say. She was slightly mad, and said the funniest things, but she was also wise and kind, and always batted in my corner. Something I will ever be grateful for, as that's a rare thing I think, in a mother in law.
The sense of mourning has been probably why I have battled so long and hard with the book. When I started writing it, this time last year, Rosemarie was starting to attend fortnightly sessions at the hospital to have blood transfusions. The staff were immensely kind and supportive, but the majority of patients could take themselves in an out of the unit and they simply weren't geared up for Rosemarie's needs. After the first disastrous attempt to use hospital transport (it arrived late, and the guy appeared never to have pushed a wheelchair before), I took her instead. I'd organise the carers to come in early and go with the children round to her flat, where I'd then get her into the wheelchair, and push her out to the car. This sounds so easy, but it was complicated by a front door which swung back quickly if not held open, and a step that was really awkward to negotiate. My worst moment was the time I nearly tipped the wheelchair in the flowerbed. Luckily no4 who had an instinctive knowledge of what to do to help, was on hand to right it for me.
Sometimes mil walked to the car. But she suffered terribly with her feet, and gave up wearing shoes, so we then had to negotiate a stony path to the car, with her yelping in pain all the way. Then, it was a question of lowering her into the car (she was very tall) helping her get enough purchase, so she didn't fall, and when we'd sat her down, swinging her legs into the car, as she couldn't do that alone. My brother in law came up with the wheeze of putting a blanket on the car seat, and pulling her across on it, which was a great idea, but jeez it was hard work. Then I had to load the wheelchair and zimmer in, take the kids to school, and then go on to the hospital (luckily within a stones' throw of school), where I'd unload Rosemarie, put her in the wheelchair, load the zimmer and her day bag on the back, and then push her up the steepish slope to the hospital.
Once into the haemotology unit, I'd get her settled in with the nurse, and then she had to endure the longest of days, for someone of her age and in her condition. First, she'd have her blood taken. Poor Rosemarie HATED the sight of blood, so I used to hold her hand and talk loudly about the children while she was having it done. They'd then test to see if she need a transfusion. Nine times out of ten, the answer was yes. On the rare occasion that it was no, we both felt like we'd got out of jail free. On one such instance, I took Rosemarie for coffee up the road - the first time she'd been in a cafe for months, and the waitress was so kind, giving us free muffins, and really looking after Rosemarie, I still think of that kindness and smile. We had a rare moment of pleasure in the misery, and it was the last time I took her out for a coffee.
Then we'd have to wait around for the blood pack to be made up. It always took hours. And I'd have to weigh up at what point I should take Rosemarie to the loo, given it took her a while to get there, and pushing a zimmer, while being attached to a drip is no fun at all. I never asked the staff to take her. They were simply too busy, and like I said, the department just wasn't geared up for Rosemarie's needs. To while away the time when we were waiting, I used to ask Rosemarie about her life in Germany - which is where the stories from my other blog http://storiesfromagedmil.blogspot.com came from. I wish I'd done that earlier, but c'est la vie. I got some of them down.
Once the blood transfusion was up and running, I felt it was safe to leave her. More often then not, bil would arrive to take over, so I could either go home and catch up, or depending on the time, go and do the school run. It was always an exhausting and difficult experience, and for Rosemarie, it must have been nightmarish at times. She bore it all with her usual fortitude and equanimity, but she would be shattered by the time she got home. I did wonder if it were worth it, though the first few times, she certainly seemed less tired then before. And I guess it kept her going a bit longer then if she hadn't had it. Though I suspect she might have been doing it for our sakes, and left to her own devices, would have been just as happy to let nature take it's course.
So during last summer, precious little writing got done. I did sometimes take my notebook and write while Rosemarie slept, but it was distracting and difficult to concentrate. And of course the constant emotional rolller coaster has an impact too.
Come the autumn, it got worse. Rosemarie had been having back pains on and off, and they became so bad she couldn't get up one day. So I called the doctor and despite our desperate desire to avoid it, we had no choice but to let Rosemarie to hospital. It was a grim and ghastly experience. Spouse and I spent a long and hideous day in casualty before Rosemarie was eventually taken to the ward, where she was treated with barely concealed contempt and a roughness which made me want to kill people. HOW anyone can treat the elderly and vulnerable the way Rosemarie was treated that day and call themselves a nurse I don't know. All I do know, was that when we left, we both felt terrible leaving her that night, and it still makes me furious.
Being mil, she got back on her feet, and got herself out of there, thank god, but we were quickly approaching a crisis, and on a weekend away which had we known how things were going, we would have cancelled, we made the decision to move Rosemarie in with us. It was hard for all of us, but particularly for mil, as she had clung to her independence for so long, and I'm fairly sure would have wanted to die there. But we had no option. After a terrible weekend when we'd asked for two carers for each visit as mil couldn't manage anymore with one, we had a farcical situation with the carers putting her in bed the wrong way round one night, and I spent more time with her then at home, mil agreed to come to us. So bil came and moved her bed (carrying the mattress up the road on his head), we packed up all her stuff, and her, and she came to stay. It was a bitter sweet moment. We all knew she was never going back to the flat again, and we kept up the pretence she was staying with us, till she felt better.
And better she did feel at first. Mil had a tendency to take dips down and then rally back again. Her spirit was indomitable and her endurance astonishing. Having not been able to walk for several days, suddenly she was able to get to the loo again with help. But our loo was too low for her (we did have a raised seat) and it was narrow, and there was very little purchase. All too soon, she couldn't manage anymore, and we had to get a commode. To explain all the delays and the difficulties of getting the equipment we needed (including getting the wrong equipment) would take me the rest of my life, but one surreal moment included trying to raise the bed so the newly delivered hoist would work. As sod's law would have it, they forgot to deliver the bed raising blocks, so the hoist would fit underneath it. Spouse in his usual can do, will do anything spirit, tried to prop it up with bits of wood, but it was a disaster, so we went back to square one and got Rosemarie to bed without the help of the hoist (as it happened they'd sent the wrong sized sling anyway).
We had a month where life was like that. I had days where the result of an enema would occur the minute the district nurse/carer left (poor Rosemarie was very constipated, and I swear 90% of the time she performed the minute I was on my own), we had nights where she couldn't settle and Spouse and I were in and out raising her legs in and out of bed, a hilarious night, where she'd tried to get out of bed to go to the loo, and in my attempt to get her to the commode, she ended up on my lap, and a more poignant one, where she suggested I get into bed with her and snuggle up. In the end it was all too much. We were both exhausted, the kids who were amazing throughout it all were struggling, and Rosemarie's needs had got beyond what I could manage alone (even with the much valued help of my amazing mother - an ex nurse - who came for two weeks and taught me how to lift and roll Rosemarie so she was comfy in bed). One night, Rosemarie looked at me and said, I don't think I should be here anymore.
So that was it. After the last attempt to give Rosemarie a transfusion had failed in October, the consultant had referred us to the Princess Alice Hospice where Rosemarie eventually died. We had a wonderful wonderful nurse who came to see us several times a week, and she arranged for Rosemarie to get into the hospice quickly. So quickly in fact, they came two hours after I called. I wasn't ready, and was heartbroken she was leaving us, on what we all knew was her last journey. The kids were desperate too, when they came home and discovered her gone. She'd always lived up the road from us, and now she seemed very far away.
Being Rosemarie, once she was there, she rallied again. So we were able to visit that weekend, and take her for a coffee in the little cafe at the hospice, and have a lovely lovely afternoon, the memory of which I will cherish for ever. In fact she rallied so much, there was a suggestion she came home again. From having wanted to keep her, I had realised once in the hospice, I couldn't possibly care for her as well as they could (my first experience of this - up until then I felt the so called professionals had let us all down). Now the thought of her coming back filled me with horror. I knew we couldn't manage, and felt lousy for not being able to. Fortunately, it was only a suggestion, and though Rosemarie lingered for another five weeks, it was never again mooted that she should come home.
Her time in the hospice was very strange. We visited daily, bil and I in the day, Spouse in the evenings, the children at the weekends, and we had some wonderful moments. The best of which was the afternoon we took Rosemarie's accordion in (it's 80years old, handmade, laden with mother of pearl), and no 1 played it for her, and one afternoon when I was with no 2 and sang Silent Night to her in German. Daily life continued as normal, but I felt I was stuck in a bubble, where I would forever be driving back and forth to Esher and nothing would ever change.
During that time, Rosemarie told me ever more about her early days in Germany, returning again and again to her childhood. I wrote it down, desperately, wishing each day for one more story. Till we came to a day when she could tell me no more. She was slipping away from us, but still gave a delighted smile when we arrived, and held my hands tightly the whole time I was there, insisting as my poor hands were so cold they had to come under the blanket.
On the Sunday before she died, no 3 and I went in the afternoon. She was cheery and pleased to see us as ever, and still at that point able to talk. I left wishing she'd go like that - a similar feeling to one I'd had just before fil died. As we left the hospice a dark cloud was forming on one side, against bright sunshine on the other. We drove home to not one but two rainbows, even spotting a third. Somehow, that gave me hope and comfort.It seemed so appropriate for Rosemarie somehow.
The next day she could barely speak, and by the Wednesday, was very weak, but still that smile, and that joy when no 4 and I went in. By the Thursday afternoon, the smile had gone, and she was in considerable pain and distress. I couldn't hear what she was saying to me, and no 4 realising that she couldn't either, just took Omi's hand and talked to her. She was only 9 years old, but she showed such a ready empathy. Children are amazing sometimes.
I must have looked rough as hell as several of the nurses asked if I was ok. I wasn't. I felt overwhelmed with it, wondering how long it was going to go on, and feeling for the first time as though I couldn't take it anymore. It was so distressing to see Rosemarie like that. I just wanted her suffering over.
And that night it finally was.Spouse and I went back in the evening, where to my relief they'd upped her pain relief, and Rosemarie was unconscious but calm. I hope she knew we were there. A couple of hours later we got a call to say we should come soon. No 1 was at a friend's house, so I went to pick her up early. Earlier in the day, we had joked about her indestructible granny. Can I come with you to the hospice? she asked. I wasn't expecting that. She was only fifteen. Was she too young to come? But she was insistent. When at midnight we got the expected call, she was determined to come. No 4 was asleep, but the other two had been up crying, so we left them with chocolate and to comfort each other and drove in the dark to Esher.
It was so weird, it was a mild night and the birds were SINGING. I didn't know they did that. We got out at Esher feeling sick to the pit of our stomachs. I thought maybe we would be there for the end, but as soon as we rang the bell, a nurse appeared to say that sadly Rosemarie had died peacefully a few minutes before. We went to see her, and she did look peaceful. They brought us tea, and we all cried. Bil and sil turned up five minutes later and hugged no 1. She had wanted to come and support us, she said, and all she could do was cry. That's all we all did pretty much for the next couple of days. No 3 felt dreadful as she hadn't been able to pluck up courage to see Rosemarie the previous day, which was perfectly fine of course, and no2 who had been incredible at helping look after Rosemarie when she was with us, was also in bits. It was a very soggy house, but in a good way I think and immensely bonding for us as a family.
I hadn't meant to write any of that, but out it came anyway. Weird how the subconscious works, innit?
From October to Christmas I didn't write a thing, unsurprisingly, I guess, and it took me weeks to get going again in the New Year. It felt like drowning in sludge, but eventually I got the first draft in six weeks late. I had thought the rewrites would be a doddle, but they were even worse. I felt tangled and confused, and making sense of the manuscript was a nightmare. But somehow I've persevered, and am pleased to say my editor likes the result. I hope you will too. There is a strong thread of fictionalised truth running through the book - like any good writer I turn my pain into something useful.
I'm still sorting out in my head what the last year has meant to me, and I don't think emotionally, I'm quite out of the woods yet. What I do know, is this, it was a huge privilege to have held Rosemarie's hand while she lay dying. I still miss her every day, but I am glad she's not suffering anymore. And finally, I'm getting my blogging mojo back. About time too, I can hear her say. Get on with it girl, why don't you?