Sarah’s Story

“My Mum Morag was an amazing person

She was full of life and a really strong woman. We’re lucky that our family has always been fairly healthy so it was a complete shock when Mum first became ill. She suffered with a back ache for months and eventually was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a cancer that affects the plasma cells in your bone marrow. It was a bolt out of the blue, especially as Mum was only in her late 50’s.

Nothing could have prepared us for that devastating news

But right from the outset Mum embraced her illness positively. She didn’t let it stop her living life and carried on doing as much as she could. When she was diagnosed, she had a holiday to New Zealand booked because my brother lives there. I’d just discovered I was pregnant too, and we thought it was really bad timing. But, her consultant told her, “You’ll go to New Zealand. We’ll work your treatment around it.” Fortunately I fitted in the return flight just before my time was up for long haul flying. My pregnancy gave Mum something really positive to focus on. Corey came four weeks early and they had time for bonding before she went into the Royal Marsden for her stem cell transplant. It was a really stressful time, but Mum never let anything get her down. She was an amazing influence in my life, and her positivity still influences me today.

Mum lived with her illness for six years and initially responded well to treatment

She even had three clear years with no treatment. Over the following few years though she’d have the odd relapse, finally suffering from two chest infections that needed treating in the Royal Marsden. It was after her second one that the doctors told us that there was nothing more they could do for her. Even then she never felt sorry for herself or had any tears, so we were all guided by her and were as positive as we could be.

Mum was given the option of staying in the Marsden or going home with palliative care. Mum told us that she wanted to be at home; in her own bed, with her own shower, and with her own things around her. The month that followed was a whirlwind but as she’d been referred to St Catherine’s Hospice, it was made so much easier.

On their first visit, St Catherine’s arranged a hospital bed for Mum which was set up in the conservatory, and other equipment to make life easier. At first Mum would walk round it telling us that she didn’t need it, but it soon became a lifeline.

Our conservatory was Mum’s favourite room. She loved sitting in there hearing the rain pelt against the roof. However, that summer was exceptionally hot, so we constantly had the patio doors and windows open for her. My brother and his family visited for two weeks, and at that point Mum was able to go out, with the aid of a wheelchair. But once they went home, Mum was deteriorating so Corey and I moved in! During the days, friends would take Corey out on play dates, and our evenings were social, with Dad coming home from work and friends visiting every night for a different takeaway. I remember a couple of days before Mum died we ordered a big family bucket of KFC! Mum enjoyed a glass of wine or two, and when she wasn’t able to eat or drink very easily we dipped pink mouth swabs in her wine for her. Quite often you’d find her with a glass of wine and a cup of coffee at the same time because she couldn’t decide which to have, so she’d just have them both!

Although Mum was always so positive it was only a month from the day she got her terminal diagnosis until the day she died

But she died the way she lived – with life going on all around her and she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. People were always dropping in to see Mum. And one of her District Nurses once commented that she’d never been into a house where everyone was so jolly and life seemed so much fun given the circumstances!

That summer was a really difficult time for us all though. And as well as supporting Mum, St Catherine’s was always there for us as a family too. In particular, Dad, understandably, really struggled to let Mum go. Even towards the very end when it was futile, he was still trying to get Mum to take her tablets. I asked one of the hospice nurses to speak to him, and she gently told Dad that there probably wasn’t much use in Mum taking the tablets anymore. That kind of support was invaluable.

Towards the end we sat by Mum’s bedside most of the time. We had about 36 hours when Mum could no longer talk, and then came the change in her breathing. But she was still Nanma to Corey. On her final night, he crawled up onto her bed and kissed her goodnight. I’d been in bed a couple of hours when Dad called me down. It was the first night he’d not set up camp on a lilo beside Mum, he’d been asleep in the armchair, but woke up and Mum had gone. Just that morning I’d told her it was time; she was clearly fighting to stay with us. I believe she waited for Dad to fall asleep.

The next morning, when we told Corey that Nanma had died he took it all in his stride – like five year olds do! We spent that first afternoon having drinks with friends and when we returned back to Dad’s in the evening the three of us went into his garden and lay on blankets looking at the stars. I told Corey to look out for the brightest star because that was Nanma. After such an emotional day that’s still a lovely, special memory for us all. Having Corey and needing to keep things simple for him helped Dad and I in many ways.

After Mum died Corey was joining us in doing things that I didn’t want to be doing, such as registering my Mum’s death. As children that age are, he was so inquisitive. I tried to explain things to him in the best way I could, and in a way I thought he’d understand. So when we went to register Mum’s death and were given her green form I told him it was like our passports for travelling abroad. I said that this was Nanma’s very special form so that she could go to heaven. And he seemed to accept that.
For the first few years after Mum’s death the three of us would pick out coloured helium balloons on her birthday and send them up to her. Corey loved letting the balloons go to Nanma, but somehow, this tradition has stopped – perhaps we had a rainy birthday! We always mark her birthday though, as we do Mum and Dad’s anniversary – last year would have been their Golden. And although there’s an empty chair we remember her constantly and talk about what she liked.

Christmas always reminds us of Mum because she loved everything about it!

Her birthday was December 17th (Many times I heard her say she was her Daddy’s Christmas angel as she was born in Angel Street in Petworth), and her birthday celebrations would always start Christmas off in our house. We’d have a Chinese takeaway and it would get us all in the Christmas spirit if we weren’t already! December is always particularly tough for our family and we miss Mum even more than usual. But every year I attend the hospice’s Tree of Light because hanging a star in Mum’s memory gives me the strength to get through the month.

For a while after Mum died, whenever I was having a bad day or needed to hear her voice, I played a message from her that I had on my answer phone. One day, the inevitable happened and I accidentally erased it. I was devastated…there was no way of getting the message back but it was kind of symbolic. There were meals in the freezer that had her writing on, and as each little connection disappeared, another part of her went. It’s part of the healing process and in time I figured that out…Some physical things disappear as time moves on, but our memories of, and love for Mum remains as strong as ever.

On the day that Mum died, the sky was perfectly clear and cloudless, but all of a sudden there was a cross in the sky from the aeroplane fumes. It was a kiss from Mum and today, whenever I look up and see a ‘kiss’ I always think it’s from Mum’ nothing to do with living near Gatwick! There are other signs too…There are times I’ve found things around the house after I’ve asked for her help finding them, and whenever a feather lands near me, or a favourite song of Mum’s comes on the radio, it’s a comfort.

I was so lucky to have Morag as my Mum

She was, and always will be, amazing. St Catherine’s gave Mum care that was second to none. And my family and I will feel indebted to them for the rest of our lives. For that reason I’ll always support the hospice and be a part of Team STCH, running marathons, hiking across Sussex, and volunteering at their many amazing events.”