Trigger Warning: This may upset some people as it is about cancer and death.
I’ve not blogged in a long time. There’s been a lot going on during lockdown here in Singapore – which does rather seem like a contradiction in terms, but it is so. I really have not had the energy or emotional capacity to write anything. Just daily life has been an effort and exhausting.
On Friday 8th May my 78 year old mother was rushed into hospital at 4am as an emergency. On 13th May my mother was diagnosed with multiple and terminal cancers as well as kidney failure. She was given months to live.
Mum has been unwell for a long time and we nearly lost her to sepsis 18 months ago, resulting in an emergency same day flight home to the U.K. to say our goodbyes. She miraculously recovered after a lot of prayer and excellent medical care from the wonderful NHS. (The NHS provides totally free healthcare for all U.K. citizens. Something that I appreciate even more as an expat seeing the astronomical medical costs living abroad). She also survived cancer 13 years ago after operating to remove it all. So receiving a terminal diagnosis was somewhat sobering.
We were in total lockdown ‘Circuit Breaker’ in Singapore due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Essential exercise and grocery shopping was allowed but that was it. In practice, no one was leaving their homes unless absolutely necessary and returning as quickly as possible. College was online, school was online and everyone was working from home. The borders were closed. Flying home to the U.K. was not an option.
Mum had lost a lot of weight in the past month and was a shadow of her former self. No one could go into hospital with her and no one could visit her due to the Covid-19. It was just a horrific situation.
U.K. lockdown restrictions also meant that my older Brother couldn’t visit as he was a key worker potentially exposed to a lot of COVID-19 and my twin sister was unable to travel from London to our home town either. The weight of responsibility and care fell onto the shoulders of my younger sister, also a key worker herself as a carer.
On the 19th May the hospital discharged mum into the care of my sister and a palliative care team. She would not return to hospital as she was classified as DNR (Do not resuscitate) if something happened. Mum was a shadow of her former self and it was shocking seeing the pictures of her back home.
On 26th May mum was well enough to be up and out of bed and sat in the sun outside but it was all downhill after that. On the 4th June we saw the horrible side to cancer as mum was saying she felt as though she was dying. She had taken the maximum amount of pain relief medication orally that she could have and was in agony. It was awful.
It brought back memories of dad dying of cancer in 1996. Cancer is a thief and slowly and painfully sucks the life out of your loved ones until they are a shell of their former selves. It’s horrific and traumatic to watch. Mum started to deteriorate rapidly.
It was surreal being thousands of miles away knowing that there was nothing practical and physical I could do. It was like watching someone else’s life unfold. Living in a different country, culture and society is challenging at the best of times but was even more so now, and in the middle of a global pandemic. Even a coffee and consolation chat with friends wasn’t permissible.
The family set up a baby monitor webcam at mum’s so I could dial in watch, listen and communicate in real time. Thank God for technology. Whilst I couldn’t be there physically, this really was the next best thing. As Singapore is 7 hours ahead of BST I was able to help in a small way by joining the night watch. It was morning here in Singapore and throughout the night in the UK. When mum was restless, needed assistance or painkillers I called my nephew or sister to assist – so they could at least get some sleep. Every morning I sent a detailed list of times and activity to my siblings so they knew what had happened overnight. It was the only practical thing I could do to help.
Mum deteriorated rapidly overnight on 5/6th June and I called my twin early that morning to get her in a car on her way up from London. She left immediately. My younger sister and nephew moved mum downstairs (at her request) and we nearly lost her with that move. It was traumatic for everyone. The decision was made not to move her again and a hospital bed was ordered and put up in the lounge the same day. Mum was able to have visitors – her brother and nieces paid a visit. COVID-19 restrictions seemed pointless now she was nearing death anyway, nothing would make a difference now.
My twin was able to take the night shift that night 6/7th June. Mum was very restless and was up and down throughout the night. I was with my twin on the night watch and watched and listened as they chatted. Overnight on 7/8th June Mum deteriorated overnight. She hardly slept and was very restless. My brother called in work on compassionate leave.
There was a huge issue with mum’s medication on 8th June – wrong prescription – twice, wrong medication delivered to the house, GP on call at the hospital having to write a new prescription, driving to collect it, chemists closed (Sunday trading hours) and district nurses unable to give injections because there was no available medication. It was a nightmare as mum was in increasing pain. My younger sister made a formal complaint, which is still being investigated. I’ve never heard of anything like it in all my years in the UK – it was one mix up after another, each compounding the former and in the meantime poor mum was in unnecessary agony. It was sorted in the evening an mum was set up with a syringe driver to pump in medication and painkillers regularly. Mum settled.
My cousin was on the night watch 8/9th June and I was with her watching and chatting from Singapore. I had college that morning too via Zoom so I had one eye on college and one eye on mum. Mum was very peaceful throughout the night and stirred only a little. My sisters niece and nephew stayed overnight at mum’s as it was clear the end was close. Mum slept soundly until 5:15am at which point she started to stir a little, but was still peaceful. My cousin and I decided to call the District Nurses at 5:33am to come and check the pain medication was sufficient. They arrived at 5:58am an immediately asked my cousin to wake the family. I couldn’t hear what was going on but realised as soon as family started to pile into the lounge half awake to say their goodbyes. My younger sister asked if I was watching and said “she’s going”. My niece who lives close by ran all the way and just made it in time to say goodbye and give mum a kiss. My brother didn’t make it. Mum passed away at 6:05am U.K. time (1:05pm Singapore).
It was surreal.
I couldn’t believe after such a peaceful night that she was suddenly gone and stopped breathing. I don’t know what I expected but I did think that breathing would become more drawn out and eventually stop – but she was breathing and then wasn’t. It was weird.
The District Nurses are able to verify the death so we didn’t need to call the GP. They removed all of mum’s pain accessories and laid her out peacefully on the bed. The awful task of informing immediate family was left for a couple of hours but people realised as soon as their phone rang at 8 o clock in the morning – nobody calls that early unless its urgent. They came to say their goodbyes. It was awful watching from afar. Everyone was exhausted and emotional.
The funeral was held at the crematorium on 22nd June. Due to Covid-19 restrictions my siblings had to write a guest list as the numbers were restricted to 20 people. Can you imagine the heartache of having to tell family members that they are unable to attend a relatives funeral?! Thankfully everyone was very understanding. The funeral was also live-streamed so I could watch from Singapore – so some of those unable to go to the funeral we’re able to watch as well. Again, one of the most surreal things ever, watching your own mother’s funeral via Livestream.
Mum’s ashes have now been collected and we now have to make a decision as to where to bury them and the type of memorial. It will take time.
We are all grieving in different ways. For me, some days are ‘fine’ and other days it’s a struggle to move. Motivation to do anything is zero. I can’t concentrate on anything. College has resumed (via Zoom) and it’s hard to appear ‘normal’. I wouldn’t have even bothered but this unit is a compulsory one and they come round once a year. I don’t like the idea of waiting another year to complete it. I’m aiming just to pass this unit – the grade will be irrelevant. Death puts everything into perspective.
Losing a loved one in lockdown is the most surreal and emotional event I have ever had to endure. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected everyone’s lives, and not in a good way. I hope that no one ever had to go through what I have been through. It’s horrific.