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[ Personal Narratives ]

How I Survived My Mother’s Death Without Relapsing

After I left Jamaica to go to rehab in the UK, my aunt Beverly in Jamaica, who organized my mother’s 24 hour nursing care, had been urging me to phone my mother more often saying my mother’s health was waning. After almost killing myself trying to look after my mother in Jamaica, who was in a horrendous state after multiple strokes, I had decided, since I went into rehab, that I needed to focus on my own needs and was more distant from her. 

Before I’d left Jamaica, a psychiatrist I’d been seeing said: “your mother is already dead, she died a long time ago. You need to stop focusing on her and look after yourself or you’re going to die.” Ama, the head of one of my rehabs in London, was softer, saying that although my mother was mentally not there I could still have a relationship with her soul. But traumatized by the experience of my mother’s illness, my contact with her had become sporadic since I entered rehab and a psychiatric unit. 

Beverly phoned me saying I really needed to come to Jamaica as my mother was deteriorating rapidly. Although I was still doing regular recovery meetings and attending the psychiatric unit, I would probably have relapsed, risking death again, if I’d gone on such a stressful trip on my own. So Fred, my ex-armed robber boyfriend, who was by now my lover, new best friend, everything to me, came too. I really don’t think I would have got through early recovery clean without him. 

We set off for Jamaica in the summer of 2006, not knowing what to expect. But I knew that, with Fred by my side, I could handle anything.

When we saw my mother it was a terrible shock for both of us. She was sitting, emaciated on a chair, like a concentration camp survivor, her eyes closed and mouth locked in a frightening grimace. She was completely paralyzed and her hands were bent double like claws. At first, when she saw me, she didn’t recognize me was just staring blindly into space. But then she did realize who I was and gave me a filthy look. It had been a year and a half since I’d last seen her. My family in Jamaica obviously couldn’t tell her that I’d gone to rehab, she wouldn’t have understood, so they just said I had been doing a course in the UK. She must have been feeling abandoned.

With tears in my eyes I said I was sorry that I had had to leave her but that I had almost died in Jamaica and had to go back to England. I thought something close to the truth would make her feel better. She cried when I said that, and we hugged. I took photographs of her in that terrible state, not wanting to forget.

Fred was incredibly supportive and would even go to see my mother on his own, telling her he would always look after me. That he’d been with me, seeing my mother’s plight in her dying days, gave us a special bond that I had with no one else in recovery.

We went briefly traveling around Jamaica so I could show him my second home. I took him to my abandoned flat, with its beautiful views, now ready to be sold. Its emptiness was like the shell of my former using life I’d left behind. He was surprised by the style and luxury in which my family in Jamaica lived, more familiar with yardies in South London. Ironically as he had less than 10 pounds to his name, because he was white everyone in Jamaica thought he was rich and was constantly hassling him for money.

We drove around the magical tropical landscape of Jamaica in a navy blue Toyota Yaris. I took pictures of him staring wistfully into the distance at a lush roadside spot, bursting with greenery, deep in thought. He looked absolutely gorgeous, my tanned white van hero. He took a picture of me (with my fake Chanel bag) in a beautiful spot outside Kingston where he said we would get married.

This trip was totally magical the absolute apogee of our love and relationship. I was absolutely convinced our love would never end.

As my mother was often completely detached not recognizing anyone, couldn’t eat or drink and had no veins left for a drip, my aunt and I decided that we would let her die. I am haunted by this decision, as I saw her, briefly, smile so she was still capable of pleasure. I don’t think she wanted to die. I wonder if I would have made this choice if my mother had not been so abusive to me as a child. But my aunt Beverly was exhausted with the effort of catering to my mother’s needs and organizing care for her. This had gone on for six years in which my mother had been paralyzed but shaking uncontrollably having psychotic hallucinations and screaming from 5am till midnight every day.  We could have fed her through a tube into her stomach but decided the torture of her illness had gone on long enough.

I said goodbye to my mother for the last time, knowing I would never see her alive again. I gave her some water, urging her to drink, part of me not wanting her to die. She didn’t understand that she was dying. But there were tears in both of our eyes.

 For the entire flight back, Fred and I held hands, both of us trying not to cry. 

I was assured by the doctors when I left, that it would only be a couple of days after liquids were withdrawn from my mother that she would die. But in fact she clung on for eleven days, starving and thirsty, desperate to stay alive. Everyone around my mother had tried to instill faith into her so she was not so afraid of death. But at the end she was clearly terrified of going and clung onto her pretty wretched life. This has given me not a fear of death, but a fear of being incapacitated and helpless like her. I am far more frightened of Alzheimer’s than dying.

I was in my flat in my sober house when I got the email saying she had died. I clung to Fred, not wanting to be alone. He stroked my hair and said he would always be there for me.

After a disagreement with my family in which they almost had my mother’s funeral without me, Fred and I went back to Jamaica for the ceremony. Although I have said before that I never cry, I did cry on the way to my mother’s funeral. Fred was there, arm around me, wiping away my tears. At the funeral all the speakers kept asking why my mother had suffered so much. While I didn’t say this, I felt it was because of her poor decisions. 

While I was heartbroken by my mother’s death, I felt we had done the right thing. Her life had shriveled to a husk, she was barely living any more. Little did I know how desperately I would miss my mother as time went on, wishing she was still alive and had never got ill.

As my mother’s death had approached, the craziness that had dominated my life in the first half of 2006 had subsided. I was no longer leaping out of bed at 3am to iron the leaves of artificial plants, or hopping like a frog on speed down streets at night to avoid dark patches that might conceal a dog shit. My mother’s final illness and death had forced me to be an adult.

I had not discussed my mother’s illness and death with my father, believing he would not be interested. I broke my silence when I got back to my sober house after the funeral having a rare emotional conversation with him. He came out with one of his bombshells. “Well you know your mother never really loved you,” he said. “The person she loved was me.” This was hurtful because it was true, she had unconditional love for him, still worshipping him despite all his infidelities. The closest she came to saying she loved me was “I would love you if you were tidy.” I decided the timing of his comment was unforgivable and didn’t speak to him for three months. I continued to discuss my mother’s death at the psychiatric unit and in meetings. 

Another struggle for me was that my mother’s will said that, although everything was left to me, I could not inherit it until I was 45. As I was 36 at the time this seemed like a life time away. This made no sense as my mother had been totally unaware of my drug addiction and up till the moment she lost her mental capacity I had been (more or less) successfully running two properties, two mortgages, a job and a set of tenants. Her desire to control me was now extending beyond the grave. 

I had sold my flat in west London thinking I could live on the interest and move back into my house in Notting Hill. This turned out to be a miscalculation. So I had one house I couldn’t afford to live in and needed to buy another property for when I finally came out of the sober house. So I now had an unwelcome battle on my hands to change the terms of the will.

While all this was going on, Fred was still incredibly loving. Despite this, I began to pine to have a boyfriend who was less rough, and didn’t smoke. After over a year of being with me I thought, by now, Fred should be middle class. But he was stubbornly refusing to be posh, saying “fuck” and “fuckin’” every other word and teaching me how to speak fluent Cockney rhyming slang. Despite saying he would give up smoking to be with me, he lived with a fag hanging out of his mouth. He had also developed a belly since he’d left the rehab. And amazingly (to someone like me who had an eating disorder) didn’t want to lose weight.

I developed an obsession with an Italian man, Leonardo, who was posher, thinner and didn’t smoke. Unlike blonde, blue eyed, white van man Fred, Leonardo had skin the color of a café crème, ochre eyes and thick black corkscrew curls. I thought he would get on better with my family. He didn’t have a criminal record as long as the London Marathon. “Fuck” wasn’t his favorite word. I had met Leonardo at “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous” and would accidentally (on purpose) bump into him at meetings where we would discuss “recovery” while he batted his long black eyelashes at me.

Fred and I had a massive row after one of these incidents. I said I wasn’t sure about the relationship with him and that perhaps he should move out. He left, smashing his phone against the wall, but came back half an hour later saying he wasn’t going anywhere. He had rented out his flat so didn’t actually have anywhere to go.

I was torn wanting to leave him but at the same time not trusting the other guy. On the advice of my support worker I made a list of pros and cons for the two men. It was clear when I read the list that the only option was for me to stay with Fred. We renewed our relationship with a fabulous shag, spending our second Christmas together. As the New Year dawned a new obsession was upon me, far more dangerous than the leaves or the mobile phone. I decided I wanted a baby….