Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Now British Channel 4 TV is planning to show a documentary containing video footage of the Princess’s last moments and I gather there is a public outcry. As one commenter wrote to the Telegraph, how long will it be before the Mercedes is sold on ebay?
Here the film The Queen has been available for a couple of months on DVD and friends who have borrowed my copy ask if the situation was really as portrayed in the film. I tell them that it’s an interpretation . They also express, as they expressed in 1997, their amazement at the way the British people “let themselves go” emotionally at that time. I was convinced then , and am convinced now, that this behaviour can be partly explained by the fact that, for the first time, it had become possible to reach middle age without having known bereavement. So for many, the “loss” of this person they had never met was their only experience of it. There were other factors, of course: our collective guilt; our fascination with celebrity, even in death; and if many had not known bereavement, who had not been betrayed in love? We identified with Diana in this, at least.
My opinion is that no one deserves to have their dying moments paraded as entertainment – unless you were Allen Ginsberg and wanted it that way – and , whatever you think of the woman, she has sons, a brother and sisters still living. Please, channel 4, spare a thought for them.
Here is something I wrote in the early days of September 1997. I have not edited it:
DIANA - THOUGHTS OF A REPUBLICAN
Like most people in the country, I switched the radio on last Sunday morning and began to go about my routine. Then I realised that these were not normal programmes. At first, I could not work out who they were talking about. When I did, I thought for a moment that they were going to say that she had topped herself. However, the manner of Diana’s death was so arbitrary as to have been absurd had it not been so tragic. As I listened, I hoped that she had not, at any stage, been conscious.
Then I sat, mesmerised, in front of the television for the rest of the day - something I never do. A week before, we were laughing at her over her denial of what she was supposed to have said to “Le Monde”. Now her funeral was being planned and no one mentioned “Le Monde”.
Of course it is sad. Yet thousands all over the kingdom will have suffered their own tragic losses this week, and they, unlike royalty, do have to worry about how to pay for their little funerals or whether the floral tributes received for their loved ones will be sufficient.
I have never been able to comprehend the mass purchasing of flowers on these royal occasions. If you wish to pay a tribute, why not take flowers to the old, the lonely or the sick? Perhaps, as one newspaper suggested, these improvised shrines are taking the place of religion in the land.
And how does a republican feel about the woman in question?
Let’s face it - we all coveted her looks, her figure and her style. Charitable she certainly was and she showed a genuine warmth towards those she met. But there is a dichotomy in attending a ball to raise money for charity and spending thousands on the dress you wear to it; in campaigning for funds for the underprivileged when what you spend on tights in a week would keep a third world family for thrice as long. But she did her best in the circumstances in which she found herself and the world in which she moved.
As to the rest of the royal family, I think that the judgement of history will be “too late”: Too late, the flag at Buckingham Palace; too late, the viewing of the tributes by the royals; too late came the realisation that they had to be seen to be responding to the situation by the people.
And how did they look at Balmoral, Charles and the Duke? - Like relics of a bygone age, in their silly, and, to our eyes, inappropriate, kilts. And there was the Queen, outside the Palace yesterday. Whoever goes just outside their own home with their hat on and a handbag? Diana, hatless, tightless in summer, gloveless, blew all that away.
For all the respect that the Establishment claims to feel, and although the coffin has been draped, since last Sunday, in the royal standard, the HRH has not been posthumously restored to the Princess. That says it all.
Going back to the lady herself, I truly hope that she did find some happiness with Dodi. However, had she lived, would this hypocritical and deeply racist nation have allowed her to marry a Muslim without comment? I doubt it.
For hypocrites we all are. It is inevitable that someone, somewhere will one day publish a photograph of the dying Princess. When they do, we will all go out and buy the papers. Ghouls to a man, we are too fascinated by her not to do so.
I watched the solemn procession to Kensington Palace last night and honestly felt that anyone with a camera should have been arrested. Hypocrisy, again. After all, I was watching.
I watched again today, in between bouts of working. As the touching cortège passes, you want the young Princes not to hurt so much. You want Diana to know that she was appreciated in a way that she could never have imagined. Most of all, you want it to be last Saturday night and you want to say to her, “Don’t get in the car”. But the reality is all too clear now.
Whatever the Queen says, I do not believe that the royal family will learn from these few days. I think that without Diana they will revert to being the stuffed shirts that they always were. You cannot tell me that, with the exception of William and Harry, they have not collectively breathed a guilty and secretive sigh of relief, now that the force for change has gone.
If the monarchy is to survive at all, perhaps they should declare a regency under Anne until William comes of age. Then Charles can marry the detested Camilla instead of conducting the affair, as we all know he will, behind the drawbridges of his dreary castles.
The royals have come through this week, but only just. It was the closest call they have had. Now, as shock and grief subside, the anger may well resurge.
The kings and queens of Britain live lives of enormous privilege and owe their continued existence to the will of the people. The House of Windsor would do well to remember it.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Friday, May 25, 2007
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Everyone wore drab clothes then, mostly grey or a very dull green. Some women used to try to brighten things up by wearing red lipstick and dead foxes round their necks [which used to terrify me] but mostly the dreariness was unrelieved. People of my parents’ generation were still in shock from the war and certain items remained on ration. Interiors were dark, too [though people were shortly to rebel against this], there were still bombsites in Bristol and the streets seemed grey and cold. There was a lot of poverty and it was so normal for children to wear threadbare old clothes to school that no one remarked upon it.
I could only have been about five and school was St Gabriel’s Cof E, at the top of Twinnel Road in Bristol. [It was one of the roads leading off Stapleton Road, where our shop was.] I can’t remember a sunny day in that playground, though there must have been some! I can only visualise it as dark and dismal..
“Winter”’s name was actually Gunther, but there was no way I could pronounce it. He used to spend ages trying to get me to say it properly, but his tuition was of no avail to the future linguist! I can hear him now: “My name is Gunther, not ‘Winter’. Say it: G-U-N-T-H-E-R”. “Winter”, I would diligently reply. [I honestly could not understand why he would laugh and I used to get quite upset about it!] Then he would kiss me and tell me that he loved me and I would feel a warm glow for the rest of the day. It was a lovely, all-enveloping feeling of knowing that you are loved and I’m not sure if I have ever recaptured it.
I don’t know what his nationality was or what tragedy his family had escaped; he always talked about his mother, never his father. There were so many families from Central and Eastern Europe pouring into the country then and there were a lot of Poles in Bristol; but obviously his name was not Polish.
“Winter” had ash-blond hair, worn with a long fringe flopping over his forehead, large, smiling blue eyes which I can picture even now and I don’t think I ever saw him without that overcoat on.
He must, I think, have been bullied because I can remember one day telling a teacher, “Winter’s crying”. Then I was pushed aside while this Miss Adams [whom I hated with a vengeance from that moment on] dealt with whatever it was that had upset him. [It was my job to comfort Winter, not hers!]
Breaks were the highlight of my little life, because I knew Winter would come and find me and we’d stand in a corner of the playground cuddling and exchanging chaste kisses while he told me that we were going to get married when we grew up. Winter had it all planned; he was going to buy the shop from Dad! I didn’t see him at lunchtimes; most women didn’t work then , so the majority of children went home for lunch. In fact the “dinner children” were regarded as something of an oddity. I couldn’t wait to get back to school in those days!
One day he just wasn’t there. “Gunther’s gone”, said Miss Adams when I enquired and that was that. Winter certainly hadn’t known about any move or he would have told me and I’m sure he would have cried! I suppose the family were suddenly rehoused in the cold, efficient, unfeeling manner of the time; or perhaps he was taken out of school because of the bullying; or maybe his father reappeared; I just don’t know. The sense of loss was overwhelming and suddenly the world grew cold.
We all need fantasies to keep us alive and one of mine is that one of these days I’ll be strolling along a street in Modica, Catania or Palermo, I’ll suddenly stop and there he’ll be – Winter!
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Monday, May 21, 2007
The arrival of this magazine in my letter-box is a little glimpse of "home", and, although I don't want to live anywhere else now, sometimes it makes me a tiny bit nostalgic. I think it's the comparative calm of the British colours in almost every photograph that does it. The Mediterranean is so gloriously exuberant in colour! I suppose it's a similar feeling to the one I experience sometimes when I watch Sky or the BBC: "Oh, my gentle, understated country, where people are using umbrellas in late May!" - and where you can wear a long-sleeved item and even a jacket in summer. [One of the first things I had to do here was buy a new summer wardrobe : outfits which would do in Britain are simply not cool enough for a Sicilian summer.]
Sometimes I wonder how the colonial British managed as they did not have e-mail, or even very fast snail-mail and news from home came late. I suppose the answer is that they hardly embraced the foreign culture but lived sheltered lives in their own communities. The last thing I want to do is to live in an enclave of Brits - might as well have stayed in the UK! - but a little "touch" of home in the form of a magazine is sometimes welcome. I read the British Sunday papers online and of course , keep up to date via blogs, but , just as you want to read a book rather than reading online sometimes, it is nice, occasionally, to sit down with a British magazine. I'd like to be able to add "and a cup of tea" here but in truth, it is more likely to be a g & t!
One more thing: a woman is writing in GH asking if it is OK to wash and re-use kitchen foil. Am I profligate in the kitchen and have I been missing something all these years because it truly has never occurred to me that you could do this?!
To those of you I normally visit: I'll be over tomorrow. Right now I have to go and read Sandi Toksvig on tennis and find out how to make a pork and pistacchio terrine.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Friday, May 18, 2007
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Monday, May 14, 2007
There has been little media coverage here and my neighbour who is a policeman did not even know about the disappearance of Madeleine. Earlier today the Corriere della Sera site had the new poster of her as one of their Foto del Giorno but now it has been replaced. You may care to have a look - perhaps they are alternating it. La Repubblica's site also has the new poster, a fair way down on the right-hand side. I am doing my best to spread the word here, particularly among people who travel.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Which alters when it alteration finds”
- Shakespeare, Sonnet CXV1
In my diary I had written, “Now I know what Dr. S meant”. For a few precious moments, Mum was lucid. We take “normal conversation” for granted, every day of our lives, but now I was so grateful for a semblance of it! I wrote, “You are not quite my mother, but you are as my mother might have been in 15 years, had ageing taken its natural course”.
During that week I also wrote, about myself, “goddam failure of a woman.. I see women older than Mum every day, on the bus, with their grandchildren and I did not give these to Mum. So it is my fault.”
A Sunday. Mum was agitated and almost like someone who was drunk. I wrote that her hands were reaching out like those of a beggarwoman - or someone in Bedlam. All modesty was gone. Yet she managed to say, “You’ll always remember me?” If my heart had not already been broken, I think it would have broken then. Her fingers started to turn purple that day. I pointed it out to the housewoman - they hadn’t noticed. Sue [my nursing tutor friend] said it was the circulation beginning to close down. During the night Mum got very agitated and they sedated her again.
5.7.93 - 6.7.93
Mum was pitiful to see. She was sedated and seemed to be obsessed with her hand. [She had had a carpal tunnel operation earlier that year and I think it was something to do with this.] Her eyes, unseeing, opened once or twice.
Mum was rambling again. I wrote, “All I want to do is fling myself across the body of this woman who used to be my mother and cry deep into her shoulder as I did as a child.”
The registrar said she had come full circle. Mum was now cantankerous in the way that she had been during the first few days. She talked to me of spiders, snakes, pebbles and “clinkety clonky”. She asked, “Why don’t they come?” I assumed she meant the doctors. I said they were dealing with a lot of ill people. She said, “And Dad is one of those people”. I wondered if that was what it was all about?
Mum was talking, but confused. I left her for 15 minutes only, but when I got back she was that yellow colour again, and was again being that cantankerous person whom I didn’t know.
The day began badly with one of Joan’s calls. [ Joan was the deputy head of my school.] I got to the hospital and 2 physiotherapists were trying to make Mum stand. It seemed such a cruel thing to do, but maybe they were worried about clots forming. As soon as she saw me, Mum started sobbing and clung to me. I started crying too and the 2 physios, who were supporting her on either side, burst into tears as well! Then they just left - they realised this was no place for them.
They’d moved Mum again - this time to a side-ward at the other end of the ward. Her ranting had disturbed the woman in the next cubicle.
Mum was talking deliriously about her own mother and making dough. She was still obsessed with her hand. Later she shouted at me and I went home because I could take no more that day. In the evening I got another insensitive call from a male colleague.
I went and bought an answerphone so that I could at least filter my calls and would have some warning if it was Joan. Mum was still talking about spiders. At one point she said, “You will protect yourself, won’t you?” I noticed that her lovely dark lashes had suddenly turned all sandy. [Her hair never did go grey.]
A psychiatrist came. Later a junior doctor devastated me by saying that he thought a nursing home was possible. Hadn’t he even looked at her?? I thought, “Is this how it’s always going to be - nursing home-hospital-nursing home-back again?” I wrote that I didn’t think I could go on coping alone. [Of course a nursing home wasn’t possible; he didn’t know what he was talking about; but I could have done without the further stress his words caused me.]
Mum said, “I’m so scared I’ll never see you again.” She took a lot of reassuring. I suddenly realised, because of her movements, that the “snake” obsession she had developed was to do with the catheter.
She was very afraid. She said, “I’m dying - help me”. God, how I was trying to! Was she asking me to help her to die? I couldn’t do any more about that than I already had.
Now Mum had become incontinent of faeces. She would have been so distressed if she’d been “herself”. She looked much worse and was trembling. All I could think was, “Why doesn’t it end?”
Just sad and confused.
It occurred to me that I’d had no time to watch Mum become a little old lady. It had just happened, literally overnight. She said, “Save me”. She had such faith in me - she thought I could do anything.
The psychiatrist had reported that he thought it was primarily a psychiatric illness. I was flabbergasted. There was blood in the urine again and you only had to look at Mum to know that there was something dreadfully, organically wrong. I had a feeling that the consultant would have withdrawn treatment if he could have been sure that that’s what Mum would have wanted.
I wrote, “Where is Mum? I haven’t seen her for so long.”
They made Mum sit up. She looked terrible. She said, “I don’t want to live like this.” So if I had any doubt about the instructions I’d given, it was dispelled now.
Blood in the urine again. Mum’s skin was turning grey in places. She said, “I don’t think I’m going to make it for you this time”.
Mum was very drowsy and had had a fit during the night. They thought death was imminent.
28.7.93 - 31.7.93
Mum was still very drowsy and having fits all the time. I was terrified.
Mum had deteriorated again overnight. I gave in and called the chaplain. I’d have called anyone who might have been able to give her some comfort!
Another fit was noted during the morning. Mum’s breathing was poor and the nurses were very uneasy. I wondered if this was it? Sue, calm, instinctive , experienced nurse that she is, thought not yet. She told me that when the end really was imminent,there would be a change that would be unmistakeable even to a non-medical person.
The drip was in again. A doctor from the psychogeriatric hospital came and told me that some strokes do not show on scans. That was the nearest to the truth that anyone got, as it turned out. The nice nurse from the George Thomas Hospice Organisation came, realised the horror of the situation and promised that they would do everything they could. They had one of their palliative care specialists beside Mum within minutes. [I had contacted this organisation because I was worried about Mum maybe dying in pain. Also, as she couldn’t communicate properly, it was often impossible to know whether she was in physical pain or not. This organisation primarily helps cancer patients and their families but they were incredibly supportive to Mum and me. The work that they do is truly wonderful. ]
Mum’s breathing was very shallow and the nurses were worried. The only thing she said was, “I’m worried about what I’ll be called.” [I didn’t know what she meant.]
Again Mum mentioned something about not having a name. I never did work it out. The George Thomas lady came again with a colleague and they were very kind. I managed to recite Shakespeare sonnets XX1X and CXV1 to Mum.
Mum’s lips were white and her eyes had gone all puffy. I finally cracked and went down to the chapel. I said, [in full pedagogic mode], “Now listen up if you’re there. I don’t know how to talk to you but it’s about time you helped. Her name is Violet Rosamund Eggleton and she has never harmed anybody, so just you remember that.” - Not much of a prayer, was it? But it was the best I could do! I think I stayed there a bit and cried.
7.8.93 - 11.8.93
These were just terrible days with Mum in a deep sleep. I wrote that I was very frightened.
Mum was less sleepy. Her colour was awful. The registrar said a psychiatrist would be taking over. I said I wouldn’t allow it. He then admitted that the condition was life-threatening but that he still didn’t know what it was.
They moved Mum into a four-bedder because a woman who had had a miscarriage needed the cubicle. I got very upset because the privacy had been taken away.
I was no good to Mum as I couldn’t stop crying. I left at about 1700.
I was shocked by Mum’s appearance when I got there today. They moved her back into the cubicle. [If they hadn’t I think I might have lashed out at someone physically - I was so bloody tired.]
16.8.93 - 17.8.93
Mum was just staring into space. They later said that this was one long fit.
I began to think I was losing it. I kept thinking I saw Dad at the end of the bed and I was saying, “Do something.”
This was the day they were discussing transfer to the psychogeriatric hospital. I’d told them not to mention it to Mum, as she knew what being sent there implied. Next thing I know, a registrar from there comes blustering in, says where she’s from to Mum and starts talking about taking her there! God, I nearly went for her! [I did get an apology later but why do they have to be so bloody careless?]
Mum’s mouth was by now a mass of sores. All anyone could do was administer water via those swab things. It was dreadful. She said she had pain in her head.
Sundays did not seem to be our day, somehow. Mum was curled up foetally and at one point seemed to just deteriorate before my eyes. She seemed to shrink for a few seconds. I don’t know what I saw to this day - maybe a change in the aura? - but I called the sister and she said that there had, indeed been a change in those few minutes. She thought the end was close but that I should go home and ring at 2200, which I did. There was no change ; Mum was staring into space again.
2007 note: Some years later, I heard, on a radio 4 programme, someone saying they had seen a sort of “haze” around their adult daughter a few days before she died suddenly. I wrote in to the BBC message board but no one else responded that they had ever seen anything like it.
Mum was terribly sick during the afternoon. They were still going on about the transfer! I couldn’t believe it. This was the day I phoned my MP. The consultant from the psychogeriatric hospital came again. He admitted he was baffled but said he thought he could help. I thought Mum was beyond it.
24.8.93 - 26.8.93
Just terrribly drowsy, knowing me but no one else.
Mum’s mouth was again a mass of blisters. Nobody talked about moving her now. We were all just waiting. In the evening she had a fit which she did not come out of.
The ward rang in the morning to say that Mum had deteriorated and I had better get there quickly. When I got there she was in obvious pain so I insisted that they did something about it, as they had promised they would. Sue came in the afternoon and confirmed that this time this was it. She thought we had, maybe, 48 hours or so. The two nurses from the George Thomas Hospice came, too. Mum was in this long fit and never closed her eyes. I stayed that night and the next one. It was horrible.
The bank holiday. I felt terrible. Martha came to the ward at 0830 and drove me somewhere where she thought she could make me have breakfast - Safeway’s, I think. I went back in the afternoon and was physically sick - not because I was squeamish but because I was frightened. The nurses said I looked ghastly and they and Sue persuaded me to go home. I think they knew I’d need my strength the next day. Strangely enough, I actually slept that night.
Sue came to the Heath with me in the morning. Mum was that terrible colour again and seemed to be in pain. I went bananas about it and the sister arranged a morphine pump.. We left at around 1530 and Mum’s friend Margaret came and sat with her in the meantime. I came home and took my dog out and just as we got back the phone was ringing. The sister said Mum was a lot worse and I had better go back. [Dr S had warned me that I might have some physical reaction and my legs gave way for a moment.] I coudn’t think who to call: Martha’s car was not in her drive; Katie was home but she and her partner were in the process of splitting up and there was a bit of an “atmosphere” next door. So I called poor Sue again. She said she would get us a taxi and so I walked around to meet her, knowing I was going to a death. Sue held my hand all the way to the Heath and the taxi driver was considerate. We got there at about 1830. It was such a shock, seeing Mum in that last struggle - worse than with Dad all those years ago. Her eyes were glazed and her breathing was very difficult. She calmed a bit once I held her in my arms and I couldn’t even cry because I didn’t want her to know what was happening to her. [She was probably too far gone anyway, but there is no way of telling.] All those months and now it was so quick! The breathing changed several times and at one point Sue said to her , “Let go, Vi”. Then three gulps which I shall never forget - I just had time to say to Sue, “Oh god, what’s that?” but I knew. And then it was over. It was precisely 19.36.. I’ll always be grateful to Sue for bring there and guiding me through it.
Well, we went to the day room while the nurses did what they have to do. They were very kind - they made sure the light was soft and they put a rose in Mum’s hand. Then I went back in and somehow recited the two Shakespeare sonnets [see above] and the lines from Quasimodo [so Sicily comes into the tale again].
Then the registrar came and he was more ill at ease than I was. I insisted on a post-mortem. He tried to tell me that even if they did one, it might not be conclusive but I said I would not leave until they promised that they would do it. So he caved in.
Martha arrived and she and Sue somehow propelled me towards the lift and out of the hospital. Back here, Sue called the Head and Joan and I just went for a walk with my dog. Martha asked if I wanted to sleep in her house but I was afraid if I didn’t face up to things that night, then I wouldn’t the next. Then Josie and everyone were ringing..
I coudn’t make any arrangenments for 3 days, and I was actually glad of the respite. On the Thursday I got the call from the coroner’s office and Josie drove me there. The first thing I asked was whether they had established a cause of death and the answer was yes, in fact, three: The death certificate reads: “chronic pyelonephritis; atherosclerosis with vertebral artery thrombosis”. [ Later, when I received the full post-mortem report I read that Mum had had not one, but two, major strokes. Dr. S explained that these would have been in an area of the brain that does not show up on a scan. ] I was so relieved to at last have a diagnosis and to know that it had been organic; to know that I had been right to insist on hospitalisation on that June night; so I burst into tears right there in the coroner’s office. He became quite concerned. Then we went to register the death and Josie got a parking ticket. I went bezerk at the traffic warden, which didn’t help matters.
I made the funeral arrangements and was quite determined that I was going to do the oration, although the undertaker advised against it. I think he thought I’d cry. I decided I’d just pretend it was a school assembly and so I got through it. I think I was beyond tears anyway. I also think that you are lent a superhuman strength at these times. The undertaker apparently said to Martha, “That’s some woman.”
The next ordeal was clearing the flat, which was much worse than the funeral. I kept finding things like my Dad’s love letters, which I still have. And the vultures were out, all right! One neighbour asked if she could have a lamp before I’d even got through the main entrance door! Martha helped me sort things; another friend came to take stuff to the charity shop; and 2 colleagues borrowed the school minibus so that we could move furniture. [They had the Head’s permission but you can imagine it went down a treat with Joan!]
Joan actually left me alone for a few days. I saw my own doctor - I was physically and mentally exhausted – and he decided I needed a couple of weeks just to myself. I was still likely to burst into tears in a classroom . So he signed me off again.
Then Joan’s threatening calls resumed. She upset me very badly one day and Dr S, trying to help, wrote to her explaining how traumatic the whole experience had been. This was playing right into her hands. One day - it was just before I was going to go back - I got a call from a teaching union to which I didn’t even belong warning me that I was going to be suspended from duty. I totally freaked, as I’d only heard of teachers being suspended as a disciplinary procedure if they hit someone or something. It was by now evening and I again didn’t know who to call: Josie and other colleagues to whom I was close might have inadvertently made matters worse by marching into Joan; Martha and Sue were both away; and my own union officer, John, was at a conference. Finally I called his wife, whom I knew, and she managed to locate him. John called me at 2300 saying it was ridiculous and he would sort it out the next morning. I didn’t exactly have a pleasant night. The next morning he called and said we had to go down to the education offices in the afternoon. He also said that the administrators had received a copy of Dr S’s letter [they could only have received it so quickly by fax] and that they were interpreting it as evidence that I had gone nuts. John had said “Well, what do you think she’s going to do, then?” and they had said, “We’re afraid she might end up being a screaming wreck” . Now those had been my very words to Joan at the beginning! I was so shocked and upset; I couldn’t believe that, after all I’d been through, I was now faced with this! I was shaking by the afternoon but on John’s advice I power dressed and we went down to the education offices. They’d lumbered an education officer whose son I had taught with the job and he seemed most embarrassed. But John must have made a few calls earlier because now they had completely backed down and the officer explained that there had been no question of a disciplinary procedure at all; all this was about was that there was a new procedure whereby if you were absent for more than a certain number of weeks with stress, you are given what is called a “medical suspension” pending a further doctor’s report and that’s all. There was no question of loss of salary or anything else. The officer then apologised for any worry they had caused me - they weren’t going to go through with it in any case.
Hmmm… Well, I marched into school the next day [ a Friday] and announced I’d be back on the Monday. I should have got an Oscar for the cool act I put on: “Oh, it’s fine, Joan. I know they were only following procedure and I don’t have a problem with it.”
So I went back for another 2 years. It was difficult getting some of my classes “back” onside but I did it. Joan and I re-established a cordial working relationship but I never got over the way I was treated during the worst time of my life and later when I was grieving.
John Arlott put it best: you are, when such things happen to you, “reduced” in a way, he wrote after the death of his son. You are are never quite the self that you were again and some of your resilience is lost. 2 years later I had a nervous breakdown and left secondary teaching. Yet, if I had not, I don’t think I’d even be alive today, such was the pressure at work. I’d certainly have been more financially secure if I’d been able to carry on with a job I had previously loved and I do think about that now that I am approaching “normal” pensionable age. But then I wouldn’t have found the friendship, understanding and love that I have in Sicily and I wouldn’t have been sitting writing this in Browning’s “land of lands”.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Friday, May 11, 2007
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Monday, May 07, 2007
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Saturday, May 05, 2007
Friday, May 04, 2007
Thursday, May 03, 2007
I did not get home till around 0800. After I called school I called the hospital again. They said that Mum was even more confused and they did not know the cause. I went there in the afternoon, spoke to the doctors, who were at a total loss to explain what was happening, then saw Mum. She was still talking about all this money she thought she had won.
Mum was in bed. She was hallucinating and kept talking about the sixty cars she was going to buy. She was aggressive and demanding with me and the staff.
She was sitting in the chair, wearing the pretty dress and was still confused. But she had stopped talking about the money.
She was sitting in the chair. She was confused but could chat. She was much quieter. She’d put her hair up and her skin was clear. She looked almost young.
Sue, my nursing tutor friend, came to the hospital with me. Mum had tried to get up that morning but could not walk. She was very nostalgic and kept crying about Dad and telling Sue about the time I took her to Italy. There was some confusion but her long-term memory seemed OK. I actually dared to hope that day. I saw the registrar, who told me that they still had no idea what was wrong.
This day was a terrible shock. Mum’s complexion was a reddish-yellow colour [which I was to see again early on the day of her death]. She was very cantankerous with me. Sue had gone over to see Mum earlier in the day and was worried by her colour. When I passed Sue’s house on the way home, she called me in and gently told me that, in her opinion, Mum wasn’t going to recover. “I don’t think she’s going to ‘do’, love” were her words. I cried all that night.
A Wednesday. The first shock was that they had moved Mum to a side-ward, on her own. Her cantankerousness and ranting had begun to upset the other patients. By the time I got there, she was sitting in the chair, wearing the pretty dress. She didn’t even recognise me or acknowledge my presence. There was a bit of birdshit on the outside of the window and all she would do was try to scratch at it. She looked about 90. A nurse had told Sue that she’d been shocked by Mum’s appearance when she came back on duty. Apparently Sue had said, “What do you think it was like for her daughter?”
This was a terrible day. Mum could not speak and it seemed that her sight was affected - she seemed to be focussing on light and then dark areas of the room. I left mid-afternoon to get a few toiletries for Mum from Safeway’s. As I approached the checkout, they closed it and I went bezerk. [They reopened it!] This shows how a little thing can make you snap in such a situation. How on earth could I have coped with 32 aggressive children at a time?! When I got back, Mum was crying and distressed but as she could not tell me why I didn’t know how to help her - that was the worst of it. All I could do was hold her and I didn’t even know if she was aware of me. They performed a lumbar puncture that evening; it took 3 doctors 3 hours to do it because Mum was fighting them. Afterwards she looked at me as if it was my fault , as if I’d let them hurt her. She didn’t look like my mother at all. At some point during that night she had a fit.
They tested for encephalitis. I was praying [yes, praying] that it would be something like this so that they would at least be able to treat it. She could not speak. She did draw me to her twice. It was as if she was saying goodbye. I wrote in my diary, “The pain of it is unimaginable”.
The test was negative. Back to square one. Mum could just about utter “yes” and “no” She was gazing at me with so much love and we actually had a peaceful, loving day, to the extent that I told Sue that if she died that night at least she would have had that lull in the suffering. I had to feed her: the hospital staff thought I liked doing it, that it made me feel involved, but I hated it as I knew how demeaning Mum would have found it had she understood what was going on.
Mum was in much distress and obvious pain. She managed one sentence. It was “I love you”. What it must have cost her to utter those words I’ll never know.
By now I had told the medical team, “I can cope with you telling me bad news; I can cope with you telling me that you don’t know what it is; but I can’t cope with you telling me nothing.” So they were being straight with me and realised that I did actually understand what they were talking about.
Mum had gone into a deep sleep. The senior registrar warned me that she might not come out of it. There was a tremendous lot of blood in her urine.
I came home at 2230 to feed my dog, freshen up and force myself to eat. The phone rang and my heart missed a beat. It was a male colleague who wanted to discuss a power struggle at school. As if I could have cared less! Then my neighbour Katie drove me back to the Heath and stayed with us a while.
This was the first day that I saw Dr S… at the Careline offices. I was explaining to him how I felt “torn” because of work and he said something which has always remained with me: “ In this situation every moment of lucidity is a gift and you cannot afford to miss one.”
The deep sleep lasted until Friday 25.6. That was the day Mum started screaming - long, loud, shrill screams every minute or so. She was shouting about spiders [of which she had never been afraid]. This was one of the days on which they said they thought the condition might be mental. They let the screaming go on until the Sunday night. [They didn’t want to administer drugs because they still didn’t know what they were dealing with.] But they sedated Mum twice on the Sunday. It didn’t work.
That night I wrote in my diary:
“If you’ve never sat at a hospital bedside and watched a loved one die, you don’t know. I’ve done it twice now and it has not become easier with experience. If you have never watched the destruction and disintegration of the personality, you don’t know. If you’ve never dreaded walking onto a hospital ward, you don’t know. If you’ve never been afraid to answer the phone, you don’t know. If you’ve never called upon an unlistening god to end the suffering, you cannot know. If you’ve never watched a lovely, vibrant woman become a shell, you don’t know. If you’ve never grieved for one still there, you cannot know.”
I also wrote down the words of Salvatore Quasimodo’s poem that I love so much, Ed è subito sera [“And Suddenly it’s Evening”]:
2007 note: I’d known this poem since university but it was not until I came to Sicily that I visited Quasimodo's birthplace, here in Modica. It’s another of the strange ways in which what happened to Mum brought me back to Sicily.
Mum was sleeping. She looked like a young girl. They did an ultrasound scan.
Mum was delirious. She was talking about colours all the time. She was repeating, “In this grey house where I live..” [I guessed that her sight must have been affected again. Nobody knew.] Then she said, “All the colours in the world won’t save me now”. There was still blood in her urine - they did not know why - and she seemed very distressed. A drip was in but she was pulling it out all the time. A kind nurse kept bringing me tea and said to me, “It must be awful for you - it’s not even peaceful.” That started me off - you know how you can be strong until someone sympathises? In the late afternoon Mum suddenly said, “I’m going, I’m going.” - “Where are you going, Mum?” - “I’m going to a place called Syracuse.” - So somewhere in that confused mind she remembered me telling her about Syracuse, in Sicily . That is why I finally said goodbye to her there, in the port, that Christmas, and why, if ever I write a book about all this, the title will be A Place Called Syracuse.
The hospital rang in the morning and asked if I’d like to see the consultant again. So I prepared myself for more bad news. Mum had pulled the drip out again and was moving around in the bed following the direction of the light. Was she grasping at light?
The consultant said that he now thought that it was mental but that certain biochemical changes occur once a person is in hospital, particularly if they are elderly. So I started blaming myself again, wondering if it was my fault for having got her to hospital. He thought a mental recovery was very unlikely. He mentioned the possibility of another hospital [she was much too ill to go into a home]. I understood that he wanted me to tell him what to do should there be a chest infection or other deterioration. I told him calmly that I wanted no futile treatment and he said he very much appreciated this. I was able to do this because, years before, Mum and I had watched a programme about Alzheimer’s and she had asked me to not to let her linger if ever her mind “went”. But even though I knew that I was doing what she would have wanted, I still felt as if someone had opened a hole in my stomach. It was, I thought, the most difficult day of my life.
A kind colleague called Josie arrived at the hospital that evening and she had her 2 toddlers with her. Upon seeing them, Mum started making odd statements about not having had children [I had been adopted] and that upset me a lot. I suppose seeing Josie’s little ones had sparked off a memory of the 9 years during which Mum and Dad had tried for a child in vain. This person who was in the bed was and yet was not my gentle Mum, who had always said she felt as though she had given birth to me. Josie swept me away to her house for a blessed couple of hours of respite. Josie makes anywhere she lives a haven of peace and I sobbed my heart out in her garden.
TO BE CONTINUED