When I was twelve my mother died suddenly. I can’t remember if it was a Saturday or a Sunday, but I remember it was at the weekend. My mum had complained of a headache around late morning and had gone to bed to lie down. After a bit I went in to see if she wanted anything and saw that she was obviously in a lot of pain. She either couldn’t hear or couldn’t respond to whatever it was that I said to her when I went in to see her. I went downstairs and said to my dad
“I think mum’s had a brain haemorrhage”
I’m not really sure how I knew that, but I had spent many hours reading my parents medical textbooks (my parents were both nurses). We had a chat about it and my dad decided to call an ambulance.
Being a weekend it took a while for the ambulance to arrive. When it did my dad took the two ambulance men upstairs to my mum. They examined her and then told us that they couldn’t take her into hospital as they thought my mum just had a migraine, it wasn’t anything more serious than that. My dad told them that he thought it was a brain haemorrhage, but they disagreed. They told us that we would need to call our doctor to get the sanction for them to take my mum into hospital. They were not allowed to take someone with a migraine to hospital. The ambulance men left and my dad called the doctor. As it was a weekend it took some time for a doctor to arrive. In the meantime I sat on a chair by my parents bed keeping an eye on my mum while my dad looked after my brother and sister downstairs. My mum was quiet most of the time, but now and again she would say
“My head hurts so much, please let me die, please god let me die”
I sat there, deeply traumatised, saying nothing until after some time the doctor arrived, a locum named Dr Patel.
Dr Patel tried speaking to my mum, I don’t remember exactly what she did or said, but she concluded that my mum had had a migraine and shouldn’t be taken into hospital.
I carried on sitting by my mum’s bed after the doctor had gone. It was now probably early afternoon. My dad went to fetch my mum’s best friend Jean Banks from up the road. Jean came and sat in the bedroom with me, she sat next to the bed and I sat on a chair a few feet away. We both sat mainly in silence, staring at my mum.
My dad came in from time to time to see how everything was.
My mum was gradually getting less restless and quieter, only occasionally saying that she wanted to die. I remember thinking to myself that in my opinion she was slipping into unconsciousness and that as she had had a brain haemorrhage that probably meant that it was too late for any intervention, and that she was going to die. I was horrified at that realisation and spent the time sitting there in silence trying to persuade myself that I was actually incorrect, and that of course she would be fine.
My dad came in again to see how my mum was. When he saw that her condition was deteriorating he called the doctor again. We waited another couple of hours for the doctor to come back. When Dr Patel finally did return, she examined my mum and said that she was going to call an ambulance. I knew that it was too late. My mum was unconscious.
Finally an ambulance did arrive to take mum away to hospital. The ambulance men carried her downstairs and out of the front door. I walked down the garden path following the ambulance men and my mum on a stretcher, holding hands with my sister Sarah who was seven. We watched mum being put into the ambulance, the doors shutting and the ambulance driving away down the road, it was just starting to get dark. My mum had been laying in bed for probably 6 hours in excruciating physical pain. I had been sitting in the bedroom with her for 6 hours in dreadful mental pain. That day, that long and traumatic afternoon is indelibly etched on my memory forever. As we held hands at the end of the garden path we looked down the road towards the ambulance which got smaller and smaller and then disappeared out of sight.
“Will she be coming back?” my little sister Sarah asked me.
“No, I don’t think so.” I replied.
We slowly walked back into the house together, and there my memory fades.
My mum never regained consciousness, we agreed for her life support machine to be switched off a couple of days after she was taken to hospital, on 11th February 1975. I was just twelve years old and my twin brother Stephen and sister Sarah were seven.
My Mum – Sally Valerie Diane Ambury 1940-1975
40 years on, I’m ashamed to say that I don’t remember much of my mum, especially considering that we were together for 12 whole years. I just have a few fragments of conscious memory. The day she died is my largest memory of her.
What I do have however, inside me, is a feeling of strength and love that has kept me going through some times of dreadful adversity. It has enabled me to love my children and give them everything I can. It has meant that despite all the difficulties I have faced, I’ve had a happy life full of so many fun and interesting times. I cannot put into words how grateful I am for that. That strength, that happiness and relentlessness in the face of adversity, that, to me, is my mum, inside of me. My mum may have died very young, but she made me the strong and happy person I am today. Thanks Mum.
Massive thanks also to the many people who have mothered me when I needed it over the years:
Elsie Leah Reynolds, Kate Deans, Joyce Leforgeais, Denise Bell, Ha Thi Minh Tam, Hazel Lapierre, Sarah Pearson, Emma Black, Leah Black, and Paul Boca. I cannot thank you enough.
This mothers’ day I give grateful thanks to my mum, my surrogate mothers and to all mothers across the world who are doing their best to raise the next generation, the future success of our planet depends on you. Mothering, loving and nurturing someone is the most important gift you can give another person.
Happy Mothers’ Day! 🙂