The woman on the left is Sylvia the Marie Curie nurse that cared for my mum - she's ace. She's the reason I'm going to cycle 1200 miles from Chicago to New Orleans. The woman on the right is my mum getting a big fat kiss off me last Christmas morning.
In January they met for the first time. By February they were best friends.
Friendships like these are beautiful things. And rarities. When you're young you think 'best friends' grow on trees. As you get older you appreciate how hard they are to come by. There isn't a price can be put on them. It was lovely seeing mum finding an amazing new friend so late in life.
When Sylvia was first assigned to mum in January she, like all of us, thought it might be a week, maybe two. And if I'm honest I kinda thought Sylvia would see mum as 'just another patient'. As someone who cares for people in their final days I assumed the only way to cope is to avoid connection, right? I couldn't have been wronger. The friendship they built up over a short time was remarkable. Mum loved it when she knew Silvia would be staying over. And I know how fond of mum Sylvia became. If you knew mum you'd understand.
To give you an idea of why mum was so easy to love i'll give you just one from a million stories I could share. It was the early 80s and The Smiths has just finished their first US tour. Morrissey (friend of my brother) came around to our house so I introduced him to mum: "Mum, this is Morrissey from The Smiths". "Hello Morrissey" said mum "How are you?". "I'm very tired Mrs Garry" said Morrissey "I just back from America this morning" he said. "AMERICA!!!" said mum, amazed to have a transatlantic traveller in her living room "Did you go to Disneyland?" Oh mum.
She could talk to Sylvia about things she couldn't talk to her family about. They could talk about their faith and together try to make sense of what was about to happen. I can't imagine that's something you can do with just anyone.
In no time at all Sylvia knew my mum's routines and how to make those nights as comfortable as possible - how to lift her, turn her over, ease the pain - which lifted the pressure on a family trying their best to provide care for and cope with losing a mother at the same time.
A Proper Cup
Mum was as stubborn as they come. She'd take her grandchildren to MacDonalds and insist on a 'proper cup' for the tea she'd just ordered. And she loved proving people wrong. Like on Good Friday when she was 'unlikely to see out the weekend' her first words of the morning were "Get the oxygen, we're going out for cake". Mum had outstayed her 3 month prognosis by almost a year and a half by the time she went mid-April. I wasn't prepared for how hard those final weeks would be. I would've given anything to make her life just a little bit better. But I never felt I could. I felt pretty useless. I know that Sylvia being there at night really lifted her, it brought a smile to her face. Just knowing Sylvia was there made me feel a bit better about me being rubbish.
Sylvia is an amazing woman. I think that's why my mum liked her so much. It takes an amazing woman to know and amazing woman. I think Sylvia is the most perfect example of how incredible the service Marie Curie provide is.
A Big Thank You
The only way I could think of thanking her and everyone that played a huge role in those final days was by raising money. So I'm going on a very long bike ride and I'd really appreciate it if you could sponsor me. Through donations people like Sylvia can keep doing their job, making incredibly tough times a little bit better for the families of terminally ill people.