My Greatest Regret - I never said goodbye

in family •  2 years ago  (edited)

My mother died 35 years ago when I was at college.

She was diagnosed with a chronic degenerative disease when I was a young boy.

I remember when she had her first stay in hospital my dad gave me an Action Man (like a GI Joe) for being a good boy while my mum was away. Or perhaps it was to distract me from wondering too much she had gone to hospital.

Over the following years her health and mobility gradually deteriorated.

First she had difficulty climbing stairs, then she started to need a stick to walk. As a family we adapted and would avoid going places that involved too much climbing or walking.

We started taking holidays in the sun in Majorca, Ibiza and Portugal as the doctors had told my mother that the good weather might help her condition.

But it didn’t.

She got steadily worse. Walking was reduced to just a few steps, so we carried a wheelchair in the car just in case. Her hands and fingers lost their flexibility making it difficult to hold even a knife and fork, so we began to help with feeding. Chewing and swallowing became more difficult, so first we cut the food into very small pieces, and then eventually we had to blend it like baby food.

As the years went on I grew up, moving from child innocence to teenage curiousity.

My elder sisters one by one got married and left home until I was the only child remaining at home.

Mrs S came on her wobbly old bike on Tuesdays and Thursdays to help with the cleaning and washing. My father worked full time and so as my mother became less and less able to do anything around the house I filled the gaps.

I did the hoovering, I did the washing up and drying, I tidied, I did the shopping, I learnt to run the house.

And I learnt to cook.

My mother would sit on an old wooden chair in the kitchen and teach me what to do. How much to put in, how hard to beat, how long in the oven.

My mum simplified the cooking regime by having a fixed fortnightly menu. I learnt to make 14 different meals - although at the weekends my father would often do the cooking.

Fridays I remember. One week it was sausages with onion sauce. The next week it was liver and bacon. I would fetch both from the little butchers round the corner. It was alway wrapped in old newspaper.

The newspaper was eventually swept away by a visit from the council’s environmental health inspectors. Then the butchers itself was swallowed up by the supermarkets steamrolling into town.

Despite the housework I still had time to study. I decided I would become a doctor so I could find a cure for my mother’s illness. I was determined.

I worked hard, got good A levels and was accepted at medical school.

I felt bad about leaving my mother but she wouldn’t have it any other way. Mrs S was coming every weekday and a local nurse visited too. She would be alright.

I think she was proud I had made it to medical school. Perhaps she really did believe I would find the cure. Although by now I think she knew she was in the end game. She had lived longer than the doctors had originally given her. At least I might have given her some hope.

Off I went to study at one of London’s grand teaching hospitals.

It was not an easy ride. Blood and me struggled to be mutually supportive. Fainting was something I got good at. Living in a flat by myself was not a good idea. But I kept going, with a lot of phone calls home, and visits from my father. The mission was still on.

Then one day it all went wrong.

We were in a large lecture theatre listening to one of the top professors talking about his specialist area which included the disease my mother had.

This was just what I needed - the leading edge science and understanding that would help me work out how to cure my mother.

Then the professor brought on to the stage a succession of patients with various of the diseases he had been discussing.

A nurse wheeled on the third patient, a middle aged woman wearing a pale blue dressing gown and fluffy slippers.

She had the same disease as my mother. She was about the same age as my mother. She looked like my mother.

The professor crouched down next to her, holding her hand if I recall, and enthusiastically told the woman about the new treatment he and his team had developed. It was very promising and he was sure it would help her. She smiled and I think believed him.

She even managed a weak little wave to us as the nurse gently wheeled her off the stage.

As the swing doors swung shut the Professor turned to us and said : "She won’t make it”.

That was the straw…

Much to the dismay of everyone I left medical school. That mission was ended.

Did I regret that decision? Probably. I had let my mother down.

I am sure my mother was disappointed but she never expressed that too me.

I was back home so I would be with her more. And she needed that.

Having been away for a few months her deterioration was quite noticeable. She was now bedridden most of the time. She was much thinner. Eating and drinking were very difficult. Going to the toilet with dignity was a challenge.

She was still fully active mentally and she encouraged me to move on and start another course.

I enrolled on a new course in a different subject at a nearby college.

It was a subject that I enjoyed and a course that looked interesting.

Most of all it allowed me to live at home and just go into college on the days I had lectures.

So I started the course and it was going well. I made new friends and I enjoyed the lessons.

I could drive to the college in about 20 minutes so if I left at 8.30am I could make it easily for the first lecture at 9am.

Normally I would get my mum a cup of tea before I left and help her drink it. Then Mrs S would give her breakfast just after I left.

Then one Tuesday, only about 6 weeks into the course, I overslept. My dad had already gone to work and I didn’t wake up til 8.20am

I was in a mad panic to get ready. I didn’t have time to make tea for my mum. I didn’t hear any noise from her room so I left her sleeping.

I just shouted goodbye as I rushed out the door. I doubt she heard me.

Around 11am we were sitting in the common room on a break between lectures when my tutor came to find me.

“Your sister has just called. She says you need to go home straightaway.”

I guessed this was about my mum, she must have been taken bad.

I was confused why my sister had called and not my father. My sister had long since left home.

I was home in twenty, or maybe even 15 minutes.

My sisters’ cars were outside the house.

My mum had died. I hadn’t seen her to say goodbye.
That was my greatest regret.
I can never put it right.


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I figured you were a good guy from our chats, but never knew you were such an awesome guy, especially at a young age! The sacrifice of yourself to your family, your father, and your mother will not go unrewarded my friend. You said you could never put it right, but it sounds to me that you were putting it right for many, many years. As a loyal son, and a loving son; devoted to his family and mother's well being. No doubt your mother knew and appreciated it immensely, and cherished every minute with you.

Man... what a tough read and a heart breaking story. Your story unexpectedly hit me pretty hard, but in a good, reverent way. Even though I have not been in such a direct situation, I lost my father suddenly at a young age. None of the family was with him in his passing or able to see his body for many days afterwards. I can feel your pain of not getting to say goodbye and of not having the luxury of so many to give parting words and love at such a time. And even now, my father's mother is in her twilight.. on dialysis, blind and wheelchair bound. She lives with my mother in an apartment here on the property where several of us live. We all share the load of her care. So your story of caring for your mother rings again in my heart.

@pennsif, what sacrifice! What love! Try as you can to have no regrets, for you gave yourself repeatedly for many years, and what greater love is there for a son to give his mother.

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Hey, thanks @greenacrehome. It really moved me to read your comment. Sorry about your father too. Losing a parent is very difficult, particularly if it happens when at a young age.

There are no words of any meaning that I can add that these other fine folks have not. I will just say that this well written and thought invoking post was written not for us the readers but as a conduit for you to express that long held regret, and that is better, I think, for your soul than any platitudes I or we could utter. Yet I, nay we, stand witness, and hear your honesty. Respect

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Thank you, it was not an easy piece to write, but I am glad I did.

As hard as it is to understand sometimes we are not meant to be with someone as they draw their last breath in this world and that is ok. I can't tell you how many times God has made the decision to call someone home without me being in the room, in spite of me being there and again that is ok. From the time we are born we know we are not in control of the ending of when the final breath here will be and again that is ok. What we humans are called to do is to live and learn and there are days when this boot camp is so hard that we just don't see a way out of the pain and loss we feel, but it is living and learning as we go. Based on just your words of how your mum lived her life you have to consider do you really think she would have wanted you to witness her leaving? Most mums love their kids and never want them to witness the final breath they take, be blessed in knowing she loved you enough...

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Thank you for those kind words. I had never thought of it from that way.

@pennsif, reading your story really touched me. I read every word carefully. I felt emotional as you described your mother and her illness quite eloquently. Both the love and sadness came through.

You are a wonderful person and I know your mother must have loved you dearly. You poured your love over her on a daily basis by caring her for so long and being close to her. Bless you, you are a rare kind soul.

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Thank you for your kind words.

I'm sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your story! 🌻

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Thank you.

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I really do not believe we can die. We leave this body but the consciousness remains.
Beautiful written publication !!

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Thank you.

My father died of cancer at the age of 55. My mother, myself, and one of my siblings were in the hospital room with him for most of the day on that last day of his life. We didn't know exactly how close he was to the end, but we knew it would be soon. That afternoon, I took my mom to get a quick bite to eat, she hadn't eaten anything all day. We were gone for maybe a half hour, and when we came back to the room, we found out that he had passed on. I guess sometimes we just aren't meant to see the last moment.

My granny passed not 5 minutes before I got to her. The nurse told me I should still talk to her, but granny and me never needed words. I just held her hand. I never got to say goodbye, but she knew I loved her. Your mother knew too. I'd bet my last dollar she waited until you left so you wouldn't have to be there when it happened. Your mother loved you too🌹

You said better goodbyes than most. Much better. Our goodbyes are in our daily lives, not in our last words.

So sorry for your loss. Losing a loved one is never easy. You should have no regrets. You were there when she needed you.

So sorry for your loss pennsif. I know what it feels like to have regret, but we do the best we can. My mother passed away in 2010 and it was on Thursday, the day I usually stopped by and I did not that particular Thursday. I got a phone call and felt terrible, I felt the same way you did. I didn't get to tell her goodbye, but she knew much I loved her. Take care🐓

I have to say as a mom I would be crushed if I felt my children had guilt about any part of our relationship. Even dare I say death? We become parents so that we raise good human beings that will go on in the world. The best tribute you could give your mom? Continue to write and release yourself from guilt.

That was a difficult read (not in a bad way I hasten to add) but glad you had the strength to commit it to text, it was very moving.
I can only understand to a small degree of what you're feeling.......... my mum was diagnosed with dementia before Christmas and in slow-motion I can see the decline when I visit her every other day (I live 25 miles away). My father left mum back in 2006 and my brother moved up to Hartlepool and so now it's left to me to help her.

That must have been hard, but you should not regret (easier said than done, I know). You were there for your mother and I'm sure she knew how loved she was. It sounds like she taught you so much.

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You had me in tears, my friend. Not only is your story compelling and it shows what a decent man you are, it is also extremely well written.
We lost my MIL two years ago and were all there to say goodbye as she passed. I know how important that moment was and is for my husband and I can only imagine how much it must hurt knowing you will never have that.

I know you aren't looking for advice or a 'good boy' or anything. But just know that I'm sure you did the right thing. In pursuing medicine, in dropping it to stay with your mum, in leaving for class that day. You did the right thing all the way through in my humble opinion.

I'm off to tell hubby and son just one more time today how much I love them thanks to you.