After sharing my story in the summer of 2016 about losing my dad, there were several people who said that my experience really hit home and had encouraged them to review their own lifestyle, so, when NICHS contacted me again, asking would I share my story of mum’s passing, I did not hesitate. If sharing my story helps only one person, then I feel it is 100% worthwhile.
My mum passed away on a Saturday morning in September 2016 and I remember it like it was yesterday. I also remember vividly the last time I saw her smiling, which was the evening before, when I picked up my two daughters, Pippa and Charlotte from her house on my way home from work.
I also remember the last time I heard her voice; the evening before she died. Once I had managed to get the girls to sleep; a difficult task when they were only 2½ and 12 weeks old, mum and I spoke on the phone, as we did most evenings, and arranged to go to the garden centre the following afternoon. This was somewhere we loved to go together as mum was an enthusiastic gardener.
The following morning, as mum and I hadn’t arranged a time for me to pick her up, I tried calling her but got no response. As Pippa was always playing with mums phone, I assumed she had put it on silent and I thought no more about it until after I had bathed the girls. As mum hadn’t called me back, I tried her mobile again several times, along with her house phone, but there was still no answer. I rang my sister Natalie and asked if she had heard from mum but she hadn’t either.
As I only lived a few minutes away I thought I’ll just call round and if she’s not ready we could wait. It was only on the way round, I had a horrible feeling ‘what if something has happened?’ I knew she had problems with her heart and combined with the shock of losing my dad so suddenly years ago, I had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right.
When I pulled into her driveway, I instinctively left Pippa and Charlotte in the car when I went inside. It was so so quiet. Deep down I knew then, but continued through to the kitchen where my nightmare became my reality. My lovely mum, my best friend, had died, alone on her kitchen floor. Her mobile phone was in her back pocket. She was 67.
I ran back out to the car to get my mobile and to call an ambulance. They asked me to check for signs of life, which I did, but it was too late. I knew then I had to make the worst call of my life. A call to tell my younger sister, Natalie, to come home. She asked what’s wrong with mum, but I just couldn’t get the words out, so said just come home. From speaking to her afterwards, she already knew.
After losing my dad suddenly in 2003 to a heart attack, I always carried a fear that I would lose mum suddenly too. Though I take a lot of comfort knowing mum died very happy. Apart from my sister and I, she had two grand-daughters whom she adored. My youngest, Charlotte, was only 12 weeks old at the time mum left us, but as she was 7 weeks premature mum was able to spend 12 weeks with her instead of 5. A small blessing in disguise. Also, a week before mum died, she was able to see Charlotte smile for the first time. It is lovely to know that she got that.
Mum was born with a rare congenital heart defect, which was only diagnosed at Christmas in 2002 when she was admitted to hospital. Rather than an artery going from one chamber of the heart to another, it came out and around the heart before going into the other chamber. Mum was offered corrective surgery, but given her age and the risk the surgery would pose, she opted against it. After all, she had lived a very active life with the condition and didn’t want the risk of leaving Natalie and I.
Mum was also a smoker, and from speaking to the doctors after she died, I know smoking contributed to her death. She did try a few times to give up, but wasn’t able to completely, however she did become a much lighter smoker when I became pregnant and she also completely stopped smoking in her house after Pippa arrived in 2013.
Pippa just about remembers mum, but unfortunately Charlotte doesn’t, though the stories and pictures I regularly share with the girls keeps mum’s memory alive. Apart from the gaping hole left in my life when mum passed away, my support network was left broken. Before mum had looked after Pippa and Charlotte, allowing me to go to work, but now I had to look at full time day care options. I always treasured having my mum, but I didn’t realise the full extent of mums support until she wasn’t there anymore. Today, I am very lucky to have the full and never ending support of my sister, who is my closest friend and the most wonderful Auntie to Pippa and Charlotte.
Given my career and personality, I am a firm believer of evidence, education and facts. As lot of chest, heart and stroke illness can be prevented with early intervention, it is so important that people are not only aware of the signs and systems of heart disease, but also understand how to prevent them occurring. Research is equally as important because, again it is about developing methods and tests to assist with early detection of a potential illness. It is only then can a person watch for the signs and adapt their lifestyle accordingly. These are the reasons why my Company Pinkertons Estate Agents became a Charity Partner of NICHS in 2015.
If I can say two things to people who may read my story. 1. treasure your parents as they are not going to be with you forever and 2. review your lifestyle today. Even if you think you are fit and healthy, stop and review. Are you really doing everything you could be? Because it is not just for you, it is for your family members, the ones you will leave behind. Go and get your blood pressure checked, or if you are suffering from stress, take some much needed time out for you.
Even the smallest of changes can hopefully give you longer with the ones that really love you. I will never underestimate the importance of family.