WHEN my mother Diane died, I was alone with her in a private hospital room.
It was just past midnight and eerily quiet.
She had been unconscious, her body shutting down since the previous day when she had finally agreed to be taken into A&E with sudden and catastrophic liver and kidney failure.
In her last moments, as I realised this was the end, I talked and talked.
I filled the silence of that room, where the only other sound was the terrifying rattle of her breath, with everything I hadn’t said in recent months but had so wanted to say.
It was a lot to get through in ten minutes and I have no idea if she heard me.
But when you are estranged from a parent and at that point where you’re about to lose them for ever, there is this overwhelming and almost primeval urge to get things off your chest before it’s too late.
I am 50 now and this was nearly six years ago.
But I was painfully reminded of how I felt then, and still do, with the news that singer Adele’s father had recently died from cancer, aged 57, while the pair were still estranged.
Superstar Adele, 33, previously talked about how she felt unable to repair their fractured relationship. But insiders say she was upset by his death despite things between them being acrimonious to the end.
From bitter experience, I bet there are a whole range of emotions she will be going through right now.
Grief is never an uncomplicated emotion, even when there is some comfort in knowing that the person you have just said a final goodbye to died feeling loved and valued.
But what if they died, like my mother did, aged 68, at the worst point in your relationship — when emails are being ignored, phones slammed down and hurtful accusations flung without a care that it might be the last thing you ever get to say?
At the time, I felt wholly vindicated — I was behaving rationally and her actions were unforgivable. It seemed so very black and white.
How was I to know that fate was about to call time on us and unceremoniously pull the rug?
NO MORE CHANCES
Because no matter how convinced you are that you feel a certain way while someone is alive, you can never predict how it will feel when there are no more chances to put things right.
This is what you must weigh up when you make the decision to end a relationship with a parent. As someone who now deeply regrets that decision, I urge anyone in a similar position to think twice.
According to Stand Alone, a UK charity that supports people who are estranged from relatives, estrangement aff- ects at least one in every five British families.
None of us are immune, no matter how successful you or your parent may be.
We know about Meghan Markle’s difficult relationship with her father, and actor Sir Anthony Hopkins, 83, also acknowledged in a 2018 interview that he has barely spoken with his daughter in two decades.
Like Adele’s father, Mark Evans, my mother was an alcoholic.
And it was because of the behaviour caused by her drinking that, over the decade before her death, I found myself physically and emotionally removing myself from our relationship before cutting ties altogether in 2015, six months before she died.
She had been drinking at a dangerous level since moving to Canada in 1999 with her third husband to start a new life.
She was in her early fifties and their move coincided with me having her first grandchild, Flo, now 22, and then Annie, 20, and Monty, 18, in short succession afterwards.
My mother desperately missed life in Britain, felt unhappy in her marriage and wanted so much to be a part of our lives.
But she felt trapped in the decision that she had made to emigrate. Miles away from me and my growing family, she wilted. And it was to alcohol that she turned to shield her sadness.
Of course, when you are only seeing somebody once a year, it takes longer to spot the signs. I remember my horror at picking her up once from the airport and she could barely walk.
For a moment, I thought she might have had a stroke. But then it occurred to me she was just very, very drunk.
I secretly started to dread her visits. I had three young children and friends would say to me: “How lovely that your mother is coming over to help.”
In reality, she was wreaking havoc. She would wander around the house all night turning lights on and getting in and out of the children’s beds, wailing and crying.
She would fall down the stairs, break stuff and rage at everyone around her. After every disastrous visit, I’d write a letter to her explaining that I loved her but I couldn’t have this in our lives.
Nothing worked. She would promise not to drink and then simply hide the evidence — stashing bottles of vodka in tissue boxes and under the mattress. She even decanted it into her hot water bottle.
If I banned her from flying over, she would turn up anyway. I once found her sitting in the garden at 5am with a bag of presents for the children.
She loved them more than anything else in the world.
I knew this and, to my shame, I also knew they were the last weapon I had in what had become a battle of wills between us.
LINE IN THE SAND
I wanted her to make a choice — access to her grandchildren or booze.
She felt it was her right to have both. And the more I put obstacles in her way, the more she projected her anger on to me.
The February before she died, I drew my final line in the sand and told her she was no longer welcome to visit and that if she insisted on flying over against my wishes I would move everybody out of the house and lock up.
She didn’t believe me.
But my mind was made up and no matter how painful, I knew that backing down would do more harm than good.
GUILTY & WRETCHED
True to my word, we all hid in a rented flat nearby, determined to teach her a lesson.
Of course, she came anyway. My mother was nothing if not defiant. And she called my mobile every day, endlessly, from a B&B just down the road.
Couldn’t she, please, just see the grandchildren? She’d flown all this way and she had gifts she wanted to give them. How could I be so cruel to her?
It was the worst week of my life. I had no idea it was possible to feel so guilty and wretched.
What is hard, looking back, is that my actions at the time felt unavoidable and so very justified.
Of course, I had considered the fact that she might die or take her own life (something she frequently threatened to do).
But I was utterly convinced that, if the worse did happen, I had made peace with my decision and wouldn’t allow myself to feel guilty.
I now know this was rubbish.
I had no way of knowing then how it would feel to lose for ever the person who brought me into this world and, not only that, to have to live with the fact they died believing they were rejected and unloved by me.
Who knows if Adele feels the same way?
But trust me, if in a similar position, you should build those bridges. Pick up the phone. Otherwise, one day, you’ll desperately wish you had.
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