Ma n Freddie in the porch
our first Christmas without you is almost upon us, and you’ll be happy to know we’re prepared, albeit in a last minute kind of way. The dec’s went up yesterday, me and Ant put them up, (he’s moved in with us now by the way), while being overseen by Squire and Freddie, and the cards were all written out and sent in time as you would have liked. As usual there were a few dramas, the tree plug proved elusive initially, and when Ant did find it, it had a loose connection, suddenly I remembered I’d intended to get that fixed during this year, thought that might amuse you.
The nativity set you loved so much is back in position, with an added Viking from your Norwegian trip, your present to Ant, so we have one each side guarding all the festive dolphins, elephants, Bassett Hound, and the rest of the traditional characters. We haven’t got any red berries on it yet, but I’m sure Allen next door will provide as he has done in Christmas’s past.
Our Nativity Scene
Ma and April with their Sewing Sister buddies.
We still haven’t cleared your conservatory or porch completely, and little reminders of you are scattered here and there, like your small bags of wool ends which you saved for the birds nests, or tins of buttons which you insisted were like gold dust, as buttons, “are so expensive”. Don’t worry, I’ll hang on to them, because you never know, but in reality I pick them up and smile as they remind me of you straight away, along with so many other little things of yours we’ll never get rid of. Dao keeps your orchids watered along with your other plants in the porch, and those lovely pink flowers you planted in the front flower pots are still in bloom amazingly. Ann and Hels have been the main beneficiaries of your craft work tools and materials, and what they didn’t have need or room for, the charity shops were very happy to receive, I hadn’t realised just how much stuff you had Ma, but then as you’d say, “you just never know when such and such might come in handy”.
Ma crocheting in the garden
I know you’ll be happy the Monday night Trough has carried on, with Pa now at the head of the table in your chair. I’m on Trough duty tonight actually, last one of the year, Lizbet and Hannah come along most weeks, joining David, Simon, Ant, me n Pa, and the table banter is up to the usual standard. The food disappears as if a plague of locusts descended upon our kitchen, which hopefully points to a meal enjoyed, and then sit in front of the box to compete in University Challenge with a cup of tea. So as you see, things haven’t changed too much, only the significant absence of a certain special someone.
There have been lots of cards with lovely messages saying how much you are missed, which have brought a tear or three to Pa’s eyes. So many people came to your seeing off do, I think you’d have been quite chuffed, and with Christmas here, they’re still sending you love. Quite the popular thing you were!
Christmas dinner is going to be at David’s this year, the first time we haven’t had it here, so I’m excused boots from cooking duties. I know it will be great, but a big part of us will be thinking about you and wishing you were with us once more. Even though you know we’re not religious, God Bless You Ma, and if it’s at all possible, I hope you’re with April, David, Peter, Jim, Pip and Co now, all with a celestial fag in your hands, heads back and laughing together. Miss you, love BB.
Left to right:- April, Peter, Jim, David. Cousin Gerard with the camera.
Ma, (front left) with April, (Front right), Tisha in between, David, (Back right) Peter, (Back left) and Jim, (Centre left), plus two nuns. Taken at St Martha’s, Rottingdean, circa 1938
Written 29th and 30th April 2019
In October last year, I went with Ma for a memory assessment at Glebelands clinic in Shoreham, this would be the third test since Ma first became aware something was wrong with her memory, her first referral being back in August 2015. Her previous tests, she scored too well to be diagnosed with dementia, but was recorded as having ‘mild cognitive impairment’ at that point.
This last time, her scores showed a significant change, and Ma was now officially registered as a dementia sufferer, a horrible term, for a dreadful disease. We were given lots of forms to fill in, and books to read on the subject. However this sounds, Ma was still happy in herself, and enjoying life as best she could, still meeting up with her Sewing Sisters friends, crocheting continuously, and gardening whenever the weather permitted. She couldn’t remember things she had read, or tell you what a talking book she had been listening to was about, but she knew if she had liked them. She struggled with people’s names, but we were always there to help her with that, overall, life has been really good, and Ma has been enjoying a happy existence. She keeps a diary, writing as much detail as she can so she can look back and see what she’s been up to, me and Pa keep one too, so we can check if anything got missed. The diary had long since become a necessity for me, to keep track of various doctors, dentists, medications, nails, hair, or dog related appointments. It isn’t full proof, things still managed to get forgotten, ironically by me mainly.
Fast forward to 21st March 2019, and Pa had had a bad night, with a PR bleed, losing heaps of blood from his backside. I’d called 111, and the assessment team said an ambulance was on its way, but if things got worse, then dial 999. I’d just helped Pa to the toilet, where he had another episode of blood loss, and he nearly passed out on the way back to bed. Looking white as a sheet as he lay in bed, I was holding his hand and he said, “I think this is it boy, I’m coming to the end”. I let go of his hand and went to dial 999, things were worse.
The paramedics were brilliant, as the entire NHS system always have been with Ma and Pa. They soon had their paraphernalia set up in the bedroom, with gadgets hooked up to Pa giving out readings. I told the medics what Pa had said, and could have kissed the lady paramedic when she looked at him, smiled, and said, “not today”. Their readings told them he should be fine, but, when they went to move him to get him downstairs, he went pale again, and on the verge of passing out, so they quickly aborted that idea. “Postural Drop”, the male paramedic said, which was what Pa had just experienced apparently. As a result they had to carry him out in a chair, lamenting the tight narrow staircase at our place.
We were rotating visits among the family to make sure someone was always with him at hospital, always arranging for someone to look after Freddie (our dog), I took Ma up the following day, Friday, when he was settled in a ward. Amazingly, after a lot of tests, Pa was allowed home from Worthing hospital by Friday afternoon, David brought him back as he was there visiting at the time with Simon and Ant.
As Pa slowly recovered, we gradually got back to our lovely home routine together, toast and marmalade in the weekday mornings, dog walks with wee Freddie throughout the day, two of which Pa comes along but stays in the car. Salads, crumpets, or cheese on toast among the lunch time faves, Wednesday had become a little highlight, with Ma and Pa coming along for Fred’s 9a.m walk, and going on to ‘Teddy’s’ in town, for a hot chocolate with toasted tea cakes at the dog friendly café/tea shop. Swordfish steak on the Friday was another meal they looked forward to, with asparagus and courgette and a creamy dill sauce, nom nom.
At the weekend it would be cooked breakfasts Saturday and Sunday, then Ma in the sunny conservatory crocheting, and Pa relaxed between snoozes in the lounge. All in all a pretty blissful existence, other than Brighton’s anxiety inducing football results.
On the Wednesday 17th April, we had our usual trip to Teddy’s after Freddie’s Adur rec walk, and I had mowed the lawn as the weather was so fine. That evening we had a celebratory takeaway dinner for Pa’s 92nd birthday, with the whole family there, including Hannah and her boyfriend, Ben. It went like a dream, with bubbly popping, and rum and shrub for the salty seadogs. Unfortunately, Ma took a tumble down the stairs later that night, incurring a bruised arm and back. Pa heard her calling for help, “someone help me”, and came down to find her slumped on the half landing at about midnight. After gathering her up, he got Ma in to his chair in the lounge, then came and got me. I knew a deal of bubbly had been consumed, so put it down to that, got Pa up to bed so I didn’t have to worry about him, then came and got Ma, and steered her up to bed also.
Next day Ma had no recollection of these events, but had a bad back, which was very uncomfortable, but didn’t stop her getting up and about, she also had a nasty cut and bruises on her arm, her new watch bent out of shape and digging in to her arm, so I had to prise it off. Our friend, Ann, who is a nurse, came round to check on Ma, asked her to wiggle her toes, made sure she had no broken ribs, and generally gave her the once over, verdict being, bruised but otherwise nothing urgent apparent to worry about. Ma’s appetite dipped after this, maybe as a result of the cocodomol and ibuprofen pills for the pain and swelling. We didn’t have the usual Trough night on Monday, as it was a bank holiday. Ma had her weekly Sewing Sisters meet at Pond road on the Tuesday, and Wednesday we had our Teddy’s treat with Freddie. Although Ma was in pain, while at home she was quite happy once she got settled in her chair, crocheting and listening to the radio.
Thursday 25th was a windy and grey day weather wise, but another idyllic day for us as we bumble around the house together, fussing over Freddie. Ma and Pa had both had a good nights sleep, not always a given, I picked up some Cumberland ring sausages from Tesco’s deli for lunch, with spicy chicken, a favourite of ours on occasion. I also picked up a cauliflower, having decided I’d try my hand at cauliflower cheese for that evening’s dinner. Ma couldn’t manage much of her sos n chook, so Freddie was a grateful recipient to help encourage him to finish his meal from earlier.
That night, having followed the BBC recipe for cauliflower cheese, I presented my efforts to Ma, Pa not being hungry. I’d also made a fruit jelly that morning, so was looking forward to happy faces. As we tucked in, Ma smiled and said, “This is lovely, you can cook this for me as often as you like, and macaroni cheese, I love that too”. We had the fruit jelly and custard pud, then watched MASH together, after which I went to bed with my normal line to them, “night night, sleep tight”, and Ma finishes the line, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite”, and grins. A lovely end to another perfect day.
When I came downstairs next morning, at 05.30, Pa was already up, I guessed he’d had a bad night, but no, it was Ma, he’d found her in the spare bedroom at 03.00, thinking she was in the toilet. He got her back to bed, but she had seemed confused, and was now sleeping. Having looked in on Ma just after 06.00, she seemed unwell, I saw she had been sick, yellow bile on the bed sheets, and was sick again while I was with her, so I called 111 for an assessment. They talked to me, and Ma, and decided on the evidence this wasn’t an emergency, but to call 999 if I thought things got worse, and call the local GP to get a doctors visit not less than 3 days from now.
It was Friday, and I usually do a Tesco shop, picking up my brother, Ant at 07.30. I decided I should be ok to get the shop done, and call the docs when I get back, they wouldn't be open until 8 o' clock anyway. I also had Pa’s appointment to get him to Worthing later for his pacemaker check, so asked Ant if he could stay with Ma while we’re gone. When I got back from dropping Ant off after shopping, I checked on Ma again, she didn't respond, like she was in a deep sleep, I was more concerned now, so called our friends, Ann, and Hels, both nurses but couldn’t get through, leaving messages.
I picked up Ant, then called my brother, David, to tell him the situation, and it would need more than one person now, I told David I had tried to get hold of Ann and Hels, and then set off with Pa to get him to his appointment, worried, but hopeful that Ma wasn’t too bad, and a doctor would see her soon.
At Worthing hospital we saw Lizbet, she was there to have a polyp removed from her throat. Told her about Ma, and went to get Pa’s pacemaker checked. On the way home I got a call from Ann, David had gone and got her after my call, she was at home, an ambulance there, paramedics in attendance, and Ma was going to be taken to hospital. I said we’d be back in 10 minutes, traffic permitting.
When Pa and I got back, the ambulance was still there, and it was decided I’d better go with them, as I know Ma’s medical history, medication etc. Ant said to me later of the relief he felt when he saw Annie walk through the door that morning, not just a great family friend, but a nurse, someone qualified to know what to do. She realised Ma was in trouble and got the ambulance ordered.
As we meandered through the traffic on the way to Worthing hospital, the paramedic guy was asking me various questions about Ma’s health, Ma rocking from side to side as the ambulance weaved about, and bumps in the road accentuated through to the cabin. I was trying to hold Ma from moving, as was the paramedic.
On arrival at A and E, I was ushered in to a waiting room with tea and coffee making facilities, they told me Ma would be taken for a scan, and was currently unresponsive. I waited and waited, had a couple of coffees, then asked if it would be ok to go for a walk, fine they said, and told me to just ask when I needed to come back in. I went for a sandwich in the hospital cafeteria, and got a call about work on the way. I told him I couldn’t deal with any work right now, and explained why, almost losing it, I could feel my voice quavering, part of me knew this was very serious, another part of me was trying desperately not to know that. He said how sorry he was, and no problem.
When I got back to A and E, I asked if I could see Ma yet. I was told to go through the doors in to the holding area, and they would update me. There Ma was, laying on her side, little shudders running through her, the male nurse told me Ma couldn’t feel anything, and that these shudders were involuntary. Then the doctor called me over to explain things, showing me a screen with images of the brain scan they had from Ma, and bit by bit, the dawning of the meaning of the words I was hearing, “not going to recover”, “will not be resuscitating”, “just a matter of time”. I welled up, and couldn’t stop the flow of tears, the doctor led me back to the waiting room, and she sat me down, asking me if there was anyone I could call, did I live with my parents, how long had I been with them. I told her I didn’t envy her this job, and she said “it’s harder for you”, I was gone by this point, not really taking anything else in for a moment.
When the doctor left, I called my sister, Lizbet, told her the news but struggling to speak, “fuck” I said out of anger at not being able to communicate properly through the tears. Lizbet assured me she would contact the others, making sure Pa was brought up to have a chance to say goodbye, and I returned to Ma, to hold hands, tell her I love her, and quietly blub as the A and E nursing staff carried on their amazing work for the other patients there.
While we all kept a rolling vigil on Ma, Lizbet stayed with her throughout, never leaving her side once she got there. It was at 01.30 on Sunday morning that I got the call, Lizbet in tears, Ma had gone.
I can only imagine the effect this devastating news was having on the rest of the family, we each carry our own heartfelt love and adoration for Ma, and a world without her seems a very dark proposition, but I know she wouldn’t want it to be like that. Ma brought light and happiness with her wherever she went, always wanting to think the best, or mostly at least. If she wasn’t impressed by someone’s behaviour, she wouldn’t be frightened to let them know.
Tuesday 30th April
While going through Ma’s phone contacts to let her friends know she’s gone, and looking at her diary, I noticed at the top of the page for today, ‘David’s 61st Birthday’, and thought, that’s odd, it was his 60th on the 30th March. Then it occurred to me that it’s actually my birthday, oh well, she must have been confused. Going further through her diary, I spotted 30th June, “David’s 63rd Birthday”, so I looked back to 30th May, and sure enough, there is an entry, “David’s 62nd Birthday”.
I can only guess at whether this was linked to the brain bleed, or whether the dementia was starting to take more of a hold, but the one consoling thing I am trying to take from this heart breaking situation, is that Ma has been spared the worst ravages that dementia can reap on its sufferers.
Last night we had our Monday family Trough night, it seemed right, to have us all together, help each other through this, knowing each and every one of us has the same pain, but will get through it. I know without any doubt, that this would have made Ma happy, she adored her family, it was her life, and it went both ways. I will write something more uplifting about Ma soon, a memory of her wonderful life, but for now I’d like to finish with this beautiful set of words written by my sister, Lizbet, about our gorgeous Ma, Lavender June Ramus 01-07-1934 to 28-04-2019. When I read it out to Pa, we both fell to bits.
‘She’s with April,Peter,David and Jim all 5 dancing on the place that comes from within, they gave us joy a laugh and always a grin for these five people are our souls from the beginning , our lovely Ma the last little Babe our rock our mother our place to be saved , We love every piece and every part of you you are our Ma and we all love you. RIP X’
(Babe was the name Lavender’s siblings and parents called her, as she was the youngest in her family.)