Birds of a Feather star Linda Robson has wonderful memories of her lovely mum, Rita, who passed away two and a half years ago.
Linda says: “Mum really was the most important person in our family. And family meant everything to her, having grown up as one of 13 children in Ireland. She was the best mum and nan, and wherever she went, she told everyone she met about her three girls and her grandchildren. When I started in telly she’d sit on the bus and say to people, do you know who my daughter is?
She was so proud of us all.
“She was generous, too and while she didn’t go to church as often towards the end of her life, she’d say her prayers every night which would usually take her ages as she’d go through the names of everyone in the family.”
So it was with much sadness that in early 2012, Linda and her sisters, Tina and Debbie, noticed that their mum was starting to act out of character. “At first we thought Mum was grieving for our stepdad Johnny who we’d all loved dearly and nursed through his battle with prostate cancer.
“But we quickly realised that it was actually dementia creeping in. We’d go out shopping with her and suddenly she’d go missing and we wouldn’t be able to find her. Thankfully everyone in our town knew us, so people would say ‘oh I’ve just seen your mum heading into Iceland’ or something.”
Wherever mum went, she was forever telling everyone she met about her three girls and her grandchildren
But, sadly, she began to deteriorate and a few months’ later Rita was diagnosed with stomach cancer and began to lose a worrying amount of weight.
As she was so frail, the doctors decided surgery or chemotherapy would be too traumatic and that it was kindest to let nature take its course, only using treatment to relieve her pain.
Night and day, Linda and her sisters rallied round to care for their mum at home until a visiting nurse suggested Rita should go into a hospice for a week to build up her strength. That week of respite at the Marie Curie Hospice in Hampstead soon turned into five months, where she was cared for by a team of nurses.
But every day Linda and her family still visited Rita, whose memory was slowly slipping away until she no longer recognised her beloved family. “When we arrived at the hospice she’d smile at us as if she recognised us, but she didn’t know who we were,” says Linda.
And it was sometimes the little things that upset the most. “Mum never had a cup of tea in her life and didn’t like the stuff, but we’d arrive at the hospice and she’d be drinking a cup of tea as she’d forgotten she didn’t like it. It was heartbreaking to watch.
“Before her illness, Mum would be so well turned out. She’d never leave the house unless her hair was immaculate and her make-up was done. She loved being smart and would always say to me, ‘Jesus, I don’t know where I got you from’ when I turned up for the school run with my pyjamas on and my hair uncombed.
“So to see her deteriorate was terrible. Her personality changed and she’d get angry, sometimes hitting out at the nurses, even though she was never aggressive. That was the frustration of the dementia.”
But when Linda’s mum finally passed away in August, 2013, it was, thankfully, a moment of great peace. “Me, my sisters and our cousin, Jackie, were all sleeping on mattresses in her room when my mum just fell asleep and never woke up. She was pain-free and surrounded by her loved ones. You know, people talk about lovely births but she really had a lovely death.”
And to this day Linda is still full of thanks for the hospice that helped bring her mum and her family such comfort, dignity and support in those last treasured months. “The treatment that my mum got was amazing and we can’t thank the Marie Curie nurses enough. We saw many people die in the hospice and met other families going through the same experience, but it wasn’t a sad place because everyone was surrounded by their loved ones.
“Respect was a big word my mum used a lot when I was growing up and it’s something I passed on to my children. So it’s lovely that she was treated with so much respect in her final days.”
The Great Daffodil Appeal
Linda is supporting this month’s Marie Curie Great Daffodil Appeal to help Marie Curie nurses provide care and support to people living with a terminal illness. You can show your support by simply giving a donation and wearing a Marie Curie daffodil pin, available from volunteers across the country as well as from Superdrug, WHSmith, and Wyevale garden centres.