It’s been a tough three months. The sort of time in your life that you wish you didn’t have to face but as we have thumbs, can use rudimentary tools and basically run the planet from the top of the food chain, you have to. You have to stand up and be counted and put all the other petty stuff behind you to deal with a real issue….and I did.
On the 16th April 2016 at 0738 hours my Mum died.
Now, I could easily not write this but I feel I must. I have to write it for myself and so that what it was like for me is recorded somewhere. You, dear reader, unfortunately will be the witnesses to my misery.
Some of you will think I’m wrong to write this tale and you might be right but I’ve been wrong on many occasions in my life so this isn’t really going to make much difference given the decisions made following my Mum’s death. This is my catharsis so if you don’t want to be part of it stop now.
Of course most of this tale is filled with sadness, tears and bitterness but other parts are so ludicrous they have bizarrely become the most tragic and funny stuff I’ve ever been involved with. Some parts of this are so pathetic and horrific that if you put it in a film you’d scarcely believe it. I should point out that I don’t feel I’m different or have been wronged more than any of you may have been. It’s just my version of the madness of family at a time of crisis.
My closest mates have been subjected to these stories during their many hours of consoling me in pubs throughout the North London area and for that I am eternally grateful.
Ok…. Let’s go….
My Mum died after a four-year battle with cancer. The specifics of it aren’t relevant but it was the type that will get you eventually and it duly did. I always knew we would get to this point and so I had prepared myself for it way in advance….as you know I’m a bit of a prick like this or as I like to call myself ‘a realist’.
I began to see the end coming at Christmas time.
Christmas is a time of perpetual trauma in my family. Actually let me clarify, not MY family but the family created by my parents. In my house we have laughter and fun from the 1st December and throughout Christmas but in the family home where my younger brother and parents reside it’s a different matter.
In recent years it has been filled spite, paranoia, hate and nastiness because no one, and I mean no one, accepts anyone else’s opinion. Yeah, Yeah, I know I have this attributes but not to these professional levels.
Whenever I would visit there was a simmering tension in the air. You didn’t actually need people in the room for this it was just seemed to seep through the fabric of the place. In reality this has been going on for decades and in the previous house also where my life was filled with shouting, aggression and low level violence all of which was created by my Father who is a man capable of such extreme nastiness and both verbal and mental abuse that he could make it into a horror movie.
As a child of the 70’s I understood it. You couldn’t do this shit now as someone would complain but then it was par for the course so I don’t think I’m different or alone but my old man is a different kind of monster. He’s a man with no remorse, no conscience and no sorrow and all these attributes came to the fore in the final months of my Mum’s long struggle and I was there to witness them in mind boggling 3D technicolour.
In roughly 1992 I left the family home and moved into a flat with and a girl. It was the right time as I was in a serious relationship. At some point you need to be able to be an adult without worrying that someone would knock on the door to see if you want a cup of tea. I was happy and excited and saw it as my jump into adulthood. I never went to University where life and growing up (a bit) is thrust upon you.
When you leave home you leave the ‘bubble’ created by your parents. Generally, you soak up the ideas and attitude your parents inflicted on you so it’s good to leave while you are young enough to forge a personality of your own. I left at 22.
My younger brother has never left. He has remained in the ‘bubble’ for 42 years old and so is a lone Epsilon soldier within the safety of it. He doesn’t like me much (he’s not alone in this) as he has soaked up a lot of the opinion my parents have of me. They see me as some sort of left wing liberal because I won’t instantly agree with all of their 1970’s views.
The ‘bubble’ has always protected my brother. There has never been a need for him to sort anything for himself, most of his meals were handed to him and the basics of living on your own like washing, cleaning and the like were done while he was at work.
Part of adulthood is coming home at night to look in the fridge only to find one solitary mini gem lettuce and a can of Fosters as you forgot to buy any food, or realising 30 minutes before you need to leave for work that you have no shirt washed or ironed and so you wear a dirty one. He had experienced none of the day to day shit we all do and so has become a sort of mini version of my Dad, all opinion and puffed up chest with a tendency to tell you you’ll have your face smashed in at any point. Fear not dear reader, advanced warning generally means no violence imminent in my experience so I’m not losing any sleep. The only person who sees him as scary is him….
Since I left home I have had a lot of grief from the ‘bubble’. Endless poor advice, opinions thrust upon me about house purchasing or parenthood which are two things my father knows everything yet nothing about. Over the years I have been only sporadically in and out of the ‘bubble’ as it’s not a comfortable experience. Bitterness and jealousy rules and even my partial goodwill was rarely reciprocated. I’ve been charged for childcare, I’ve been threatened with suing over an injury at my house and with police complaints with the phrase ‘I’ll have your job’. As you can see it’s not a barrel of laughs. Luckily I ignored it all and carved out my own life.
And then the ‘bubble’ had to deal with a real problem and not one fixed with ignorance and arrogance.
When my Mum reached the final two months of her life I wasn’t talking to her. We had fallen out over something trivial. This wasn’t odd. It happened a lot during my life after leaving home as I wasn’t keen to continue to believe the opinions that were put on me. On this occasion the fall out was due to my lack of thanks to my younger brother for being at home looking after my mother. This was a recurring theme but I’d had enough of it as I had my own family and had left home 25 years previously so was of the opinion that if you remained in the ‘bubble’, paying next to fuck all for a hotel service the least you could do was keep an eye on the ill parent.
My lack of gratitude resulted in a swift barrage of expletives being shouted at me down the phone and a period of silence. To be fair I knew it was coming as I have always been able to tell that grief was imminent from the tone of my mum’s opening line on a telephone call. The problem really stems from my parents’ insistence that my brother although 42 years old was really somewhere between 15 and 19 years old and so should be protected and praised on a daily basis. To be fair to him he was unaware of these conversations but I knew what he thought of me as I’d been privy for a 20-minute conversation once where they had failed to put the phone down correctly. Nasty stuff, ruining me and stating that I was a waste of time and no good for my own kids… I was used to the face-to-face fakery so accepted the first of many apologies with a similar fakery but you never really forget that kind of stuff as it’s not meant for your ears so tends to be the real thoughts rather than the cobblers.
After a few days of silence, I received news that my Mum had been admitted to a hospice with a curt one-line text message from my brother.
The word ‘hospice’ only really means one thing in my mind so after several failed attempts to get information from the twat himself I contacted the Hospice directly. Within four days I was sitting in front of a Doctor, a very nice nurse and a social worker where I pushed for a timeframe on how long my Mum would have left. The answer was eight weeks if a last ditch form of delaying chemotherapy failed. I must admit that this took me aback slightly even though I knew, deep down what was coming in the conversation.
I now had to process this info for myself. So I told the Doctor that I would inform the family but not my Mum. She had already told me that she did not want to know.
I went home and got my head around it as much as was possible and decided that my brothers would need to know the score so I firstly contacted my older brother who, as expected, reacted with total maturity and intelligence and said he would do anything he could to heal old wounds. Basically he would do the right thing and he made good on that promise.
The younger brother would be trickier. He is a tense, highly strung individual prone to mental explosions when his emotional level hits critical mass. I rang him up and he was full of irrelevant questions about long since departed Consultants and Doctors who no longer picked up their phones. I then told him what I had been told and told him to start preparing himself for what would be the inevitable outcome.
He wasn’t having it…
He then described the hospice Doctor who had given me the time frame with the ultimate family word. It’s an expletive that I rarely use as I was brought up with it and heard it a million times as it was used to described most people outside of The ‘bubble’.
‘You’re a Bullshitter’ could be the family motto. Paranoia, inadequacy and jealousy are the reasons for this word’s frequent use. . Within the ‘bubble’ anyone doing better than those within it was a liar, anyone spouting an opinion that the ‘bubble’ didn’t agree with had got it wrong, if you could be brought back down to earth they would be the ones to do it and they would do it with joy. It was a family trait that I hope I have pulled myself away from.
‘Bullshitter’. A Doctor in a hospice. A professional. How anyone could think that this man would take a guess or lie to someone in such a fatal position is beyond comprehension.
I couldn’t really help my brother from this point on and so decided to just do what I had to do. His opinion would become irrelevant as he clearly wasn’t emotionally up to the job.
Over the next few days I decided that until I knew that this was it, until I knew for certain that there was no more chance for my Mum I would keep the 8-week diagnosis between my brothers and myself. The final chance was they last ditch Chemotherapy but it wasn’t too long before it became evident that that wasn’t going to work as she started to deteriorate quite rapidly.
Now I’m not going to go into the tragic details of that 8-week period and what happened to my Mum as that would be even more inappropriate than this story is already but suffice to say it was heart-breaking and hard to watch.
To see someone fall apart mentally, emotionally and physically without having any control over it is extremely difficult for everyone involved. The problem with death is the lack of control that anyone has over it. You are helpless. Helpless to the diagnosis, helpless to the treatment and almost helpless to the time scale. It is a limbo state, a ticking clock…a long, lonely walk to the inevitable. All you can do is be there for the person facing it, if you are lucky enough to have that time, and bond with those that are left. You need to support each other, close ranks and see it out in the most painless way possible.
Of course, none of this happened.
What happened was a pile up of ‘Blues Brothers’ car chase proportions from what is a car crash of a family. A family created by nasty, with nasty would be nasty till the end as that was all it knew.
Every Story has a Monster and this is where our one comes in…
My father is a man of outstanding belligerence. He should really be applauded for his refusal to do anything he should do, or needs to do. He’ll probably live till he is about 200. He’ll see us all out even in his twisted state. He’ll drink Whisky till it fills his veins and he’ll smoke till his lungs are black and charred. He is driven by nastiness and brutal, brutal honesty. Actually that’s not correct. None of it is honest, it is just his opinion, his belief that you are a fucking idiot who knows nothing and he knows everything even the stuff he has no experience of. He demands respect yet gives none in return. It’s all about ‘Me, Me, Me’ even when his wife lay dying in agony.
For years this approach worked for him. He ruled with a rod of iron and in some ways it was easier to just go with the flow but we all have a breaking point and I reached it long ago. As a small child I consciously decided that making him laugh was the easy route and so I had an alright time. My brother Dan was a moodier kid than me and so he got most of the rage. He wouldn’t conform or pander to the whims of a bully and he suffered for it.
To be fair up till the age of about 12 you were fairly safe enough. Well, safe as in you weren’t totally destroyed by his self-proclaimed superior intelligence and wit. You merely had that 70’s childhood of parents arguing and physically fighting, the odd dry slap and simmering tension throughout the family home interspersed with ‘Jim’ll Fix it’, Len Fairclough being arrested and The Dick Emery Show. Standard stuff. Oh, Christmas was good as a kid though, a bit like WW1 and the football match…. Except for one occasion when my Mum bought my Dad the ‘wrong kind of Christmas card’ and there was a massive explosion of violence 2 days before Father Christmas arrived. Lovely.
When you reached your teenage years though you started to take his eye. As you became aware of yourself he became aware of you and so you would be crushed on many occasions for pretty much for fuck all. His job seemed to be making sure he was in charge and you knew he was in charge whether it be insisting you gave half your Arsenal programmes from the 1971 double winning season (a gift from The Eternal Champion) to your Australian Cousin, grabbing you by the throat 5 minutes before your Girlfriend picked you up or simply insisting you cleaned your shoes every morning at 0600 hours otherwise you were ‘a filthy pig’. Luckily football programmes (even classic ones) are usually painful reading, the girlfriend at the time knew the issues and fixed me and I don’t clean shoes for no cunt anymore unless I’m standing before someone I respect like a Judge or a potential new employer. The old man was all about the domination and he loved it. He confused fear and hate with respect and love. We were the beaten dogs who needed food so kept the peace rather than tore the throat out.
But then you grow up and the fear leaves you. You become an adult with real issues and they become more important than the past. My Dad just became a thing, a memory that could be side-tracked as I didn’t need his help. I’d left home, I was fully employed, I’d never needed his money, I’d never needed bailing out so he became an irrelevance even in his aged, twisted state with ailing health he is hard to love. He now needed me but I was reluctant to dive back in…… unfortunately I had no choice.
When the inevitable time came to tell my Dad that Mum had no more chances and could not be saved and was in the last days of her life I visited him. I had to tell him to his face because that was the right thing to do. I went to the care home he was in and told him.
In a stunning turn of events he appeared to show emotion, not for himself but for my Mum. I felt for him and so promised that I would do everything I could to do everything properly for him as he wasn’t able to do it. I felt strangely happy…..but I was wrong to feel that way as it turned out it was merely another trick from the arch manipulator.
The last two weeks for my Mum were the worst. She knew it was coming and there was nothing I could do or say that would calm her. It was like a slow drive and drop off a cliff handcuffed to the steering wheel of a car. A Hopeless scenario. This was the time for the bonding. Let me rephrase that this should have been the time for the bonding but it was the complete opposite.
Instead of pulling together my younger brother started to go fully breakdown. He started to cause problems in the hospice. He was aggressive and abusive to the staff who were literally angels. They complained to me or it was brought to my attention by the Doctor. He then ramped it up by threatening to come to my house to batter me as I didn’t agree with him on things like whether my Mum’s relatives should visit her in the hospice. He felt that was all fake on their as they should have been visiting her all the time anyway. This is of course complete bollocks and indicative of his world in ‘the bubble’ where that is all that matters.
He was also of the belief that me arranging for people to visit Mum was ‘giving the game away’ to her as she would know that she was dying. I pointed out to the thick fuck that she was in a hospice and she had bravely discussed funeral arrangements with me on a number of occasions. He said he was going to complain that they weren’t doing enough in the hospice to save Mum. In the end I asked him to show me the blood pressure monitor in Mum’s room. He looked about and said ‘Ha…exactly’ as if he had found the smoking gun of hospital incompetence. I explained that one didn’t exist as it was no longer required. This was a waiting room with a one-way door. Nothing registered. In the end I was told by him that he would only visit Mum alone as he ‘knew her best’. To this day I’m still at a loss as to what this actually means. He added tension to the tension to create Super Mega Tension… you could almost see it glowing around him.
When the day of days came it was no better. Mum had gone and I was in the room with her trying to get my head together about how I was going to tell everyone, how I was going to break the news. It wouldn’t be a shock but I really didn’t want to do it…..who would? Who wants to spread misery and sadness? But if I didn’t who would?
For the last 24 hours of my Mum’s days on this planet I was in a room with her and my younger brother. Dan had gone to work aboard and was on the plane when I was told of the breathing change triggering the end. He could do nothing 30,000 feet up but my younger brother said ‘Got out of it again has he?’ like it was some kind of game he didn’t want to play. I sat there while my brother spoke about Mum being dead in her company before she had gone. I had to constantly remind him that she was sedated and could probably hear him. His lack of life experience is fucking desperate and in reality I should pity him.
When I’d said my last goodbyes to my Mum I went home to recharge. My Dad needed to be told but in a rare moment of adulthood the younger brother insisted that he be the one to do it. I knew this would go wrong and so put myself on standby. As expected I was called to the care home within the hour.
I arrived at the place and prepared to comfort my Dad. Unsurprisingly he was inappropriately chipper. I walked into his room and was confronted with a question as my younger brother left in a hurry:
‘How did you get here?’ he says. I told him I had walked.
‘Have you considered going that way? (pointing the wrong way)
‘….er….You know why I’m here right?….’ Says I…
‘…Yeah…your brother told me…your Mum’s died. Down there (pointing the wrong way) is a pub. It’s a good pub and behind it is a….’
‘..Have you lost your fuckin’ mind?..’ I interrupt. ‘Mum has died….4 hours ago..’
‘…I know…. What do you want me to do about it? You’re the big man with all the power who thinks he runs this family… ‘
….it was at that point that I clenched a fist, placed it calmly on his chin and issued a very violent warning. He may be a monster but he had created me which means I can be a monster…. Monster 2.0 if you will. It would have been easy to dispatch him there and then but I realised that I just wanted to go home to Jen and the kids.
I went home. I rang our man in Hong Kong, who was perfectly in the country, and he took me out with the Spaniard to get drunk. I got drunk, cried in the pub, went home and cried again. Me Mum had gone and I was left with the idiots.
Throughout the funeral arrangements I was met with problems from my father and younger brother. ‘Too much control’, ‘Think you’re the Big man’, ‘I’ll smash your teeth out’ the whole lot. It’s not unusual for people to react this way following the death of a loved one but the issues and nastiness tend to be lower level I suppose. Not liking the flowers, different opinions on songs and stuff like that. I’m pretty sure it’s not normal during the funeral arrangements to be told by your father that you are ‘quite enjoying the attention’ that arranging it brought.
I stoically kept to the path to do the right thing for my Mum, the right things she wanted and not what I was told. For example, my Father told me that she wanted ‘Ding! Dong! The witch is dead’ from the Wizard of Oz as a funeral song, my younger brother’s felt that he should be the only one in attendance as everyone else were ‘Wankers’ who left her on her own. Friendship is a two-way street and my Mum could be very offish, aloof and snobbish so it was no shock that people weren’t beating a path to her door during her illness. I’ve seen her failings and I accepted them but it doesn’t distract from my love of her.
Of course the other reason is that people might not be able to deal with it mentally. No one really wants to see an individual they love or even just know literally disappear before their very eyes in a slow, long decay. But the main reason people aren’t involved in this stuff when they are not directly affected is because they have their own lives and their own problems. They also assume, quite rightly, that the immediate family rally in these scenario’s and deal with it in their own way and how they want it. That is the normal way. But this isn’t a normal family. It’s a mess. A mess created by a monster set on creating havoc and horror wherever and whenever it could.
The funeral went smoothly and how my Mum would have wanted it to. No major religiousness, limited black from those in attendance and laughter afterwards. I accepted the fake thanks and platitudes from my younger brother and father and carried on. I knew at some point this bollocks would collapse and so it was merely a waiting game.
During the last weeks of my Mum’s time I promised her that I wouldn’t abandon my father and younger brother so I would visit him and ensure that they were ok. Unfortunately, this didn’t last very long as you give these people an inch they take a mile. They are the masters of badgering you into submission.
I decided I would visit my Dad every Saturday morning to see if he was ok or needed anything. He’s in a home but he has complete freedom and it’s not like the classic old peoples’ home where everyone is placed in the sun room in a circle for hours just waiting for death. This place is nice. Lovely staff, decent food and it’s clean. He can even participate in his favourite activity of attempting to keep the whisky distilleries of Ireland in business. They are happy to pick him up when he falls over and will take his regular abuse and threats with little complaint.
I was visiting as agreed but as expected the phone calls start. Midnight. The phone goes and it’s him asking to talk to my son who’s 12. I explain that it’s a school night and a 12 year old is in bed but am received with a ‘so what?’. I point out the time and perhaps it’s a bit late for a call but am told that time means nothing to him and if I didn’t want to pick the phone up I should have left it. This is the logic.
Over the next few weeks of visits he ups the nasty. Personal attacks on me about various things including how thick I was a kid (the classic quote being ‘We didn’t bother with you as it was clear early on that you weren’t up to much’), how I show him no respect (correct for once) and how I have stolen ‘his’ money. Well I didn’t steal any money. He had no money. All I did was distribute it in accordance with my Mum’s wishes. This meant that Dan and I got nothing but our kids did which was fine with us both. The younger brother got the majority of the pennies available….so be it.
The other outstanding revelation from the old man was that I have been jealous of all my mates for years and in particular our man in Hong Kong. I’m not sure where this came from. He must have met Bun about four times in 30 odd years and probably not at all in the last 20 years. Apparently though I’ve always been in his shadow as he was successful and I wasn’t. Interesting. I’ve never seen myself as more or less successful than anyone I know.
The only envy I have in life is that of wanting a bigger house and even then it would need extensive acreage and a ‘Grand Designs’ type build so It’s a dream really like winning the lottery. I’m happy and pleased for all my mates as we all seem to be doing alright. He took little interest in my life as a child, a teenager and a man. He is a ‘taker’ not a giver. I reminded him that in my adult life I’d played over 650 amateur football matches he had seen the sum total of none over a 33-year period. I was blamed for that. I was told that when I was nine I asked him not to come to a primary school match. Because of that he never came again.
The fact is the Old man doesn’t know my mates but uses it as a lever to bring you down to his low level, gutter attitude as he’s not good with ‘nice’. He thrives off hate and agitation. He likes to rile you, it’s his thing. He wants the ‘kick off’ and the control. I’ve seen him insult his wife, his siblings, his in-laws, nephews and nieces, his kids, his friends, his carers and complete strangers. He’s the fucking master of it even in his current state. Even though you know this it doesn’t make it any less nasty and hurtful…. In fact, it probably makes it worse as you know it’s coming, it’s not random, it’s not an illness, it’s a calculated approach to dominate and insult.
The old man is all about triggers and true to form he hit my trigger one morning when I visited him.
I turned up and he was more obnoxious than normal. He was also pissed at 11 in the morning which of course made him more right than me when it came to any conversation we were about to have. During the usual crap about me being a prick and repeated questions about ‘his’ money I noticed that he no longer mentioned my Mum in any way, shape or form. He just ignored the fact that she had died as if it didn’t matter to him. The fact was, it didn’t. He couldn’t care less. He was only interested in whether he could continue to control us all. It was my moment of clarity. I just had to go and not come back. The selfish old fucker had, through lack of action, made it clear.
Before I left I asked him why he didn’t mention me Mum anymore and he said:
‘…She’s dead. What’s the point? She ain’t looking down on us…there’s no heaven…She’s gone..’
He was right. She had gone and so I had to go also. I didn’t need this shite any more, I had a family that I loved and didn’t argue with or try to ruin. Why was I wasting my time with a bloke who cared for fuck all except himself? So I left to a load of abuse hurled at me over my shoulder. No looking back. Fuck the pair of them.
Two days later I received a phone call from the looney asking me when I was next visiting. I said that I needed a break from both him and my brother as I’d had enough or the pair of them so I wasn’t coming. In classic up-the-ante fashion he told me that they had both had enough of me.
‘Good’ says I, ‘Then we are all happy’ and that was that. No more effort required.
My parents didn’t really like each other, particularly in the last 20 years. They were like that couple in Father Ted who put on a front when the public can see them but really hate each other in private. During my Mum’s last weeks, I asked her everyday whether she wanted to see my father. Every time she said ‘no’ or shook her head when she could no longer speak. That says it all. My mum had a stressful life with my Dad. I believe that ultimately that stress is what caused her illness. Endless grief for decades with someone utterly selfish, bullying and demanding. None of us were saints but only one was a monster.
As I said some of you will think this blog is a bit out of order and shouldn’t have been written. Some of you will think it disloyal to air this stuff publically. I can see that but I can also see that being treated like a cunt behind closed doors and taking buttoning it up isn’t required. To sort yourself out sometimes you need to chuck it out there and this is what it is for me.
The ultimate challenge in life is coming to terms with the loss of someone you love. Death makes you helpless. There are minimal opportunities where you can do anything about it. What is worse? Hitting the deck from an exploding vein or heart, being crushed by a skip lorry, hitting a parked car in the fast lane on your motorcycle or being eaten away by a disease you cannot stop? They’re all the same but with varying degrees of shock for those left picking up the pieces.
People say they want to be at the bedside when someone goes but in reality it is horrible. The utter helplessness is horrible. I was with my Mum for all the ‘moments’. Only I was there when they told me she had 8 weeks (8 weeks and 1 day was the actual time it took), only I was there when she was told there was no more hope or treatment and only I was there when she breathed her last. Those moments wake me up at night as if they had just happened. They haunt me and will forever.
My Mum was the glue in this car crash of a family unit and now she is gone. What’s left is a mess and it’s not really a mess I care to mop up anymore.
As my half-brother, The Eternal Champion, once said with regard to our Dad…’You reap what you sow’ and they truly have…enjoy the harvest freaks…
For my Father and younger brother I’ll use the words of Tom Hardy as Reggie Kray in ‘Legend’:
“…. You’re wasting my fuckin’ time…. Wankers!!…. the lot of ya…. Now get out me way…”
Now, I’ve wasted enough of your time and my time on this shower…
Next time some fun. My adventures in Amsterdam with football teams. If you were there, fear not… I’m full of discretion.
It’s called ‘…is it the one with the big flappy hands and Adams apple…?’