Today my lovely mum would have been fifty. Unfortunately, she is not here to celebrate her birthday. Every year I have a good think about this, and this year is no different. However I’ve been working on something to help pay a tribute to my lovely mum.
Jean Violet Whitaker was born on November 18th 1965 in Doncaster. She was the youngest of six children – three boys and three girls.
In 1987 she married Kevin Costello, a Sergeant with third batallian REME the Green Howards, they were stationed in Germany. First in Guttersloh, then in Herford, then in Osnabruck. In 1988. They welcomed their first child into the world – me! Two more children were to follow in 1989 and then in 1991 – my two younger sisters.
During our time in Germany, my mum dealt with my dad being away for long stints at a time. She dealt with all the things that an army wife goes through – the fear of the phone ruining and being told her husband had been killed or injured, the agonising wait for letters to arrive. Of course this was before emails, so we kept in touch with what we called “blueies” – little blue fold up envelopes. They were what was allowed. Of course, as far as I was concerned there was nothing unusual about this and blueies were something exciting.
Even though my dad was away an awful lot, I never felt like we were missing anything. My mum always did a wonderful job of parenting all three of us, which I imagine must have been a bit of a stress at times! My dad fought in the Falklands, in Bosnia and other places too, and finally in 1998 we moved over to England. He was still away Monday to Friday at his base in Catterick, but he was home on weekends. We got a dog, did up the house, made friends at school and all the other things non army kids take for granted. It was nice to be in a place that we wouldn’t be moving from.
My mum had a job at a supermarket cafe. Once out of the army, my dad took on distribution type jobs. All in al we were a fairly comfortable household. I did w
ell at school (so did my sisters) and at the age of eighteen I decided to move down to London to live with a friend. (As an aside – this friend was Amy, who is now my wife!)
So, in December 2006 I moved to London and started a job at a West End musical as a Front of House Usher. Me and mum spoke every day. Sometimes for a while, sometimes she just called to check in and see how things were and how I was getting along, or update me on something going on in the family. It was rare that a day went by without us speaking, however briefly. I’m not going to say we were always close, but we certainly became closer when I left home.
She arranged to come down with my two sisters in February 2007. It ended up being Valentine’s Day that they came down. Before she came down, she had been to the dr with stomach pain and sudden weight gain. She had seen a locum dr, who had sneered at her pain and told her “maybe if you ate more fruit and veg instead of crisps and sweets, you wouldn’t be so fat”. She dismissed the pain and told her to lose weight. So my mum started trying to lose weight, but the stomach pain was getting worse.
The pictures above are from the day she came down. in the second one, I am in the middle, mum is on the left and on the right is my youngest sister, who was 15 at the time. My other sister was taking the picture as she doesn’t much like having her picture taken. We had a lovely day that day. We went to see We Will Rock You and went for Nandos. It was nice. We did a fair bit of mooching around London and we said goodbye at the end of the day and they got the train back to Doncaster. Mum said she thought I looked like I had found where I was meant to be. She said I looked happy. I was.
A couple of weeks later I went home suddenly. My mum had been talking to me on the phone about the pain and I just wanted to go home and cuddle her. It was clearly very painful for her and she spent much of the weekend I was there in bed or laying on the sofa, trying to sleep it off. She was taking all the pain killers she could but they weren’t having much effect. We all said she should go back to the doctor but after being spurned so harshly she did not want to. At the end of the weekend I went back to London. She was meant to drive me back to the train station, but felt too ill to do so, so asked my dad to do it. When I was was leaving she started crying and I asked what was wrong. She said “I just love you so much.” I offered to stay but she said no, so I gave her a hug and left.
That was the last time I saw my mum. A few days after that she phoned me and told me she had gone back to the doctor, saw our normal family doctor and he had sent her for an urgent scan at the hospital. She had ovarian cancer.
It was curable, she told me. They were going to treat it. It was ok. She was going to “fight it”. I sort of knew in the back of my mind that this is what it could be, but she assured me again and again that the prognosis was good. Over the coming weeks she was in and out of hospital having her stomach drained, as the cancerous fluid kept building up and making her stomach swell. Only about four weeks after that first doctor appointment, (the one where they told her she was fat) she was admitted to Sheffield hospital’s specialist Cancer Unit. Again, she assured us it was ok, the prognosis was good. They were going to do a hysterectomy and take it all out of her, then she would be ok. She told us it hadn’t spread.
On the 18th April 2007 I went to see the Rocky Horror Show in Wimbledon with Amy and her sister. When I came out I had forty two missed calls from my sister. I called her back. She told me mum was dying. She had hours to live. I needed to come home immediately. At this point, I had already missed the last train to London. I phoned my dad, he transferred money for a train ticket and I told him I would get the first train in the morning, I don’t know how I slept that night, but I did.
The next morning, my alarm didn’t go off. It didn’t matter anyway, as at 0505am my sister phoned me and told me my mum had gone, we had lost her. She had passed away moments earlier. She said not to hurry home. I said I would be home later. I hung up. I screamed and cried. I couldn’t believe it. My gorgeous mum just wasn’t there any more. What was I meant to do? We had been told she was going to be ok! That day I went shopping. It was all I could do. I bought a few gifts for family members, then I got the train home to Doncaster. My sister met me at the station and we sat in silence in a taxi on the way home. I don’t think either of us knew what to say.
When I got home my dad was in the shower and my youngest sister was at her friend’s house. My dad hugged me. We were both numb. He cried a little and told me that when they knew she was passing away, her brothers and sisters were there and they all started crying, thinking she has passed already. Then she opened her eyes , grinned and told them “I haven’t even gone yet!” And then passed away seconds later. We laughed a little about this. It was typical mum. (It’s ok to laugh at this – it’s funny) There was a definite feeling of numbness in the house.
Over the next few days the sympathy cards started to pile up. There were literally hundreds. We were living in the village in which my mum grew up, so everyone knew her. Everyone knew our family and everyone knew about the tragedy that had struck us. People could not have been more helpful, loving or thoughtful in those days. They were the most surreal days of my life. It did not feel real. Nothing about it felt real. It felt like we were in some odd haze, just existing.
The funeral rolled round. The church was so full that there were people standing at the back. I was ok until we reached the front of the church and I saw the coffin. I sobbed and clung to my sister. Didn’t want to believe it. I was like it had hit me in one fell swoop and it was so real at that moment. I could have quite happily thrown myself on the floor and kicked and screamed, or just curled in a foetal position I honestly had no clue what to do. We buried her in the same cemetery where my grandma and grandad are. When we visited the next few days the flowers were swamping the place.
The next few years were hard. Very hard. I couldn’t hold down a job, I couldn’t function. It was bad. I went through a stage of being angry, both at the doctor who had told her she was fat and at her. I found out she knew she was dying and hadn’t told anyone. Had protected us. Like she always did. But I eventually made peace with those feelings. It’s funny how when someone passes away,me specially when they go suddenly, they take on some kind of angelic state. You only seem to remember the good things and that is how I remember my mum. I know now that she had a lot of issues, but I know she always did her best for me and my sisters.
Now, I miss her, every day I miss her. I still occasionally pick up the phone to call her. Sometimes I see something she would love and I think of her, Sometimes I hear songs that I used to howl along to with her in the car and it makes me cry. But they aren’t hysterical tears. I just shed a tear for the mum that I miss. For the mum that I won’t ever have in my life again, for the mum that I wish I could hug one more time. But I know she is watching over me and I know that, along with all of our lost relatives, she is holding Squishy until we get another positive pregnancy test. I know that the feeling of missing her will never go away, they will (and have) become easier to deal with.
So, in celebration of mum’s 50th birthday, tonight I will light my new Yankee Candle – Stargazer Lily. She loved Lilies of the Valley and this was the closest I could get. My very positive OPK today, on her birthday, almost seems bitter sweet. If we conceive this month I will assume that this egg is a gift from the one person who is missing in my life.
I love you mum. Forty Two is too young to be taken. Happy Birthday and RIP.
Beautiful tribute, Laura. She seemed like a very lovely woman and she loved you so much. I’m sorry you must face days like these, when the world seems totally unfair. She is watching over you and Amy, and you will see her again one day. Much love xoxoxoxo
thankyou hun xxx
I just cried reading that Laura. I lost my mum suddenly when I was just 21 so your blog really struck a chord with me as I too have experienced all those feelings. Bless you xx
sorry to hear of your loss hun. I was 19 when mum passed away. It hurts bad whatever your age but I think ages where you don’t imagine losing your parents are harder. I expected my mum to still be around when I was fifty, let alone losing her before I hit twenty. It’s hard