Today I’m beginning a new series of posts which relate to key parts of the story of my late mother, it’s impact on my life and the lives of others, and the lessons I learned from it – all told through the lens of my experience. This series will culminate on Mother’s Day, when I post one of the poems she wrote at the height of her struggles.
You may think a story about my mother (pictured left) sounds, on paper, a self-indulgent and pointless endeavour. We all have mothers, and they all have stories.
However, the story of my mother is one that I can assure you, will both inspire and challenge you. It is a unique, powerful and uncomfortable story, but yet so encouraging.
My mother has an incredible story to tell, one which I am certain will prove inspirational to you. A significant part of this will cover my experiences of grief and lessons I have learned, which I hope can be an encouragement and support to you.
I hope this story blesses you as much as I feel blessed by being able to share it – and although there have been tears writing this series, believe me, they are tears of joy.
Mum was what you would call a ‘free spirit’. She was 5ft 2, highly intelligent, compassionate, loving, servant hearted, and a great laugh, someone who loved a good party. A regular churchgoer, she spoke fluent French and had before she had children been a French teacher.
By no means was she perfect, but she was a very unique woman.
One of the most significant events in her – and our family’s – life came on April 1st 1985. My mum had been married to my Dad for 12 years by then and during that time had two children – me, then aged 8, and my sister Alison, then aged 4. We were a close family, and all was well.
My Dad had a good job and my mum was planning to return to work as a French teacher that Autumn when my sister started school.
It would never happen.
That evening, which happened to be during Holy Week that year, my mother had a severe asthma attack. I remember coming down the stairs after hearing the ambulance, and seeing my mum sitting in a chair, struggling to breathe, almost still. The ambulance picked her up and took her to hospital. An emergency babysitter, a neighbour, arrived almost instantly and my Dad was off behind the ambulance.
It was not good. My mum was barely breathing. Doctors deliberated whether or not to put her on a ventilator. A delay which cost my mother dearly.
So, eventually she was put on a ventilator. She had stopped breathing on her own and was now merely breathing with the help of a ventilator. My Dad rung up her brother and told him to come down – and to bring clothes for a funeral.
Doctors had said she was unlikely to survive, and if she did she would essentially be a vegetable.
My Dad told me later how that night he sat down in tears, thinking about what he was going to do. He had an 8 year old and 4 year old at home and was now seemingly going to have to bring them up on his own. He was lost, confused and in despair.
At this point, neither myself nor my sister knew exactly how bad things were. We knew that she was in hospital and it was bad – we weren’t allowed to go visit her, it was that serious – but that was all.
Mum was in a coma on a ventilator for several days. The church our family attended were praying for our whole family – and two other people in the church had tragedies in their family the same week, including the minister’s family.
It seemed like our church was under attack – in particular during Holy Week.
But, by what can only be deemed a miracle, my Mum woke up.
She was no vegetable.
However, something had happened. The delay in putting her on the ventilator had caused serious and permanent brain damage, isolated to her short-term memory.
Doctors said she had lost her short-term memory and that although she would regain some of it to a degree, she would never be the same again. Otherwise, she was perfectly fine and healthy, still intelligent, still able to do the day to day things all of us are able to do.
She hadn’t become stupid – as some people seemed to think. She just had little short-term memory.
I remember Dad telling me about when he went to see her just after she woke up, and he went and spoke to her. Then he went off and spoke to the doctor for 15 minutes, came back, and she said hello as if he had never been there at all.
She’d forgotten he’d even been there.
There was something else though.
Let’s go back a bit. To when my Mum first came out of her coma.
One of the first things she did, was ring my Dad (proof her long-term memory was fine).
She said “I’m back!!!”
My Dad responded “Where have you been?”
She said “Oh, I’ve been walking with Jesus by Galilee and He’s sent me back”
I first heard this when I was 8 years old.
I was already involved in Sunday School by then, but I remain convinced to this day that this story was what got me starting to take my faith more seriously. To start questioning and exploring who this Jesus was who had sent my Mum back to me.
This story made Jesus suddenly very real to me.
I think I felt grateful to Jesus, for giving me my Mum back. There was no way she would be able to work now, she was destined to be a stay at home Mum.
For that, I know I am eternally grateful, and I think my sister is too. It was such a blessing to have our Mum at home every day when we got home from school.
It was challenging however – two years after this initial attack Mum had another serious attack, and at 10 years old I had to call 999 whilst my Dad gave Mum mouth-to-mouth on their bed. Me and my sister got used to seeing doctors and being in hospital – her having asthma attacks – albeit less serious – became quite a regular occurrence.
In many ways this has ultimately benefitted us. We now have no problem with hospitals or doctors, they are not scary places to us now. Emergency situations are not unusual to us, and in many ways this is a good thing.
How well God has used Mum and her experiences to bless others – and to help lead me further towards knowing Him.
What looked like a disaster, turned into an amazing blessing in so many ways. My mum despite her disability, managed to bring up two children as well as teaching many people French privately and being a part of a thriving church community, serving in the church coffee shop.
Ironically, given her disability, she was undoubtedly one of those people who no one who met her, would ever forget.
Next time I’ll talk about what I went through on April 29th 2000. The day she died.