I have never really spoken about this day; it’s hard to know where to start really.
It was a cold but sunny March day. My nan (Florence) was dying of cancer. For weeks we had been looking after her at home following her terminal diagnosis. I don’t think much in life prepares you for helping a person to die well, but the compassionate hospice nurse reassured us we could provide Nan with a comfortable departure into the next realm and fulfil her wish to take her last breath at home... So we were doing everything in our power to do just that.
Emotionally and physically it was hard… Seeing someone you love fade before your eyes, and ensuring we looked for every sign of pain when her communication skills had left her was challenging to say the least, but we didn’t want her to be in any unnecessary discomfort, so we sat watch 24/7.
As I look back at those weeks, a few things jump out at me. I don’t look at this period of my life as overly traumatic. Don’t get me wrong, it was horrific in part but it was also unbelievably beautiful. As a family we clung to each other; we laughed, we cried, we sang around Nan’s bed, and we created memories that to me define what ‘family’ is all about. One of the worst parts was watching my grandad break before me. He has always been so strong and dependable but his heart was breaking, and there was little we could do for him. His soulmate was vanishing, and he often begged her to stay and the agony in his eyes still haunts me a little if I am honest.
As the final days drew near, we were put on constant standby, as we all wanted to be with her as she took her last breath. We took it in turns to nip to our homes and sleep and eat, and for ten days we were regularly called to say ‘this is it, get here fast’, and then Nan would do what she was well-known for…bouncing back! However many times the doctors and nurses declared she had minutes left, Nan defied them, and just kept on going. Then one night, when everyone but my mum had left the bedroom Nan slipped into her Heavenly room, and just like that she was gone.
Seeing Nan so still was shocking. For weeks we had been watching her shallow breathing, and for that to no longer be there was hard to accept. I asked the medical team to check her thoroughly three times, as I was so scared they would remove her, and she would still be alive. They patiently checked her over and over.
Once her death was confirmed, all we could then do was wait for the undertaker to arrive.
Grandad sat sobbing in the sitting room.
Mum had gone to bed, and all you could hear was sobbing from under her duvet.
Then my phone went.
I went to a quiet room and answered the call as I didn’t know who it was. It was a call from Number 10 Downing Street to tell me Andy and I had won the Prime Minister’s award for all our charity work. This news should have been a lovely moment, one to celebrate… but it was just surreal.
The timing of the call, in those moments where time seemed to stand still, felt like a gift from Nan if I am honest but as the tears flowed I was just sad she hadn’t been with us to hear the news.
The undertakers then knocked on the door - two kind and patient gentlemen entered the house.
They told me what they needed to do. My grandad (Ray) said he wanted someone to be with my nan at all times, but he insisted that he could not face being in the room. My sister felt she couldn’t either, and my mum said there was no way she could handle it… so that left me! I didn’t feel I could cope either to be honest, but there was no one else there, so I said I would stay in the room.
Cards on the table here, this was one of the most traumatic moments of it all for me. I wanted to scream, cry and beg them not to move my lovely Nan. I wanted to remember her playing with us, laughing with us, not being put into a body bag… I asked God for the strength I needed to get through this moment, and He gave it to me.
A loss is so complex, so painful and so very tough to get through, but having a family to share these moments with helps you survive it.
I was once afraid of death, of dying… but I guess I have learnt there is nothing to fear; the pain lays in leaving those we love behind but if we know we are leaving them in a good place, with people who love them surrounding them, we can be assured they will not only survive, but thrive following our passing.
So love your family hard, you will not only want them with you in the good times, you will need them with you in the tough times… and when you face life’s battles as a unit, you will be stronger because you are together.
If you need support following loss, you may like to read the Saying Goodbye book. It includes our personal story of baby loss and 90 days of vital support.