Background info on me: I was born in Germany, my mom is French, my dad is German. They separated when I was not even one year old, but my mom staid in Germany and I grew up with her as a single parent (I didn’t have any contact with my dad for about 10-12 years, but we have a really great relationship now). November 2011 my mom reached her age of retirement and about one yer later she moved back to France. Back to the place her father was born and of which he and his mother and had told my mom so much about when she was a kid. Belle-Ile-En-Mer, the biggest island of Brittany (about 18x7 km, with about 5k permanent residents and many more during the summer months). Back in 1989, when I was 7 she bought herself a home there, most of my childhood vacation memories are from this place. I guess her plan had always been to retire there and so she did.
Two days ago she died. Well, actually probably four days ago, but more on that later. Friday, about 5:50 PM, I am still at work for some totally bullshit reason, I get a call from my mom’s phone. I know something is probably wrong from that point on, because she almost never calls me on my cell phone. When she calls, she calls at home.
Officer x: Hi, this is officer x of the Gendarmerie Nationale in Belle-Ile. Are you J.?
Me: Yes, speaking.
Officer x: The son of Mrs. A?
Officer x: I’m terribly sorry to tell you this, but I have some bad news regarding your mother.
Officer x: She passed away, I’ll let the doctor say more.
Officer x passes the phone to the doctor x.
Doctor x: Hi, this is doctor x of the emergency services. Your mom died of natural causes related to her illness.
I’m like wtf are you talking about, my mom isn’t ill. But obviously she (still) was and way more than she had let anyone know…
About 25 years ago she had breast cancer, but it was treated without too much of a problem and she was fine. Then a couple of months after she had moved back to France in November 2012 (so maybe in like March or April 2013) she called me to say that she had breast cancer again. Which she apparently had known or had at least suspected for many months already, but had not done anything about, because she wanted to move and get settled first. Or so she said. She told me that she had felt something hard in her breast. As a retired M.D. herself, who had already survived one breast cancer she really should have known better and done something about it asap. I don’t fault her; this is merely a statement of fact.
Anyway, she started chemotherapy in late spring/early summer 2013 (I think?). She originally told me that she would be getting chemo and would receive surgery afterwards. However, she didn’t actually get surgery once the chemo ended. I was told that the cancer was in remission and surgery would not be necessary, but that she would be getting anti hormonal drugs instead. This was all I knew.
I saw my mom about twice a year. I would usually travel to France for Christmas, and then once either in spring or summer. In total I saw my mom for maybe 3-4 weeks per year since she had moved back to France. She was always pretty thin and had lost some more weight and complained about being tired all the time while she was getting chemo.
Last time I saw her was in the first half of May. She seemed reasonably well to me. Still pretty thin (many pants at least one size too big), but not in any sort of way that would have alarmed me. Her hair had grown back well; she wasn’t wearing a wig anymore. Now that I think about it, the day I was notified of her death (two days ago, Friday), was exactly 6 weeks after I last saw her; I left France on May 15th.
We talked about once or twice a week on the phone. Last time I called her was on Monday to tell her that my package for her was ready and that I would be sending it on Tuesday. Her cell had broken and since she wasn’t too tech savvy she had sent me her SIM card. I had bought her a new cell, installed and configured everything for her; also added some of her favorite German sweets (salted liquorice herrings from Katjes, fucking disgusting if you ask me, liquorice is already bad enough as it is, no need to ruin it further by selling it salted…). When I called on Monday it took her way longer than usual to answer the phone. I had let it ring at least 10 times and was about to hang up when she finally answered. She told me she had been in bed and wasn’t feeling well, because she had some sort of stomach flu. I didn’t give it much thought, because these things happen. Well, two days later she was dead.
According to the doctor who examined her body on Friday she had already been dead for probably about two days. She was found by her gardener, who had an appointment at 5 pm to discuss some stuff to be done. She didn’t answer the door. Since he did a lot of work for my mom he has a key to the garden. And my mom usually doesn’t fully close the sliding door from the kitchen to the garden in summer, so he entered via the kitchen and saw her lying on the living room floor next to the couch. He called the cops immediately and they called the doctor. And at about 5:50 pm they called me…
I am her only child (and she is an only child too) and she hasn’t had a partner for at least 10 years, so I will have to do everything. That’s not the worst thing, however. My grandma still lives. My mom’s mom. She is 102 years old and still in amazing health relative to her age. She still lives in her own apartment, although she has been starting to show signs of dementia. Not Alzheimer’s or anything, but she knows what’s going on. When you ask her what day of the week it is she won’t know the answer though (for example), she doesn’t know what happened last week etc.
My mom and grandma lived about 150 km apart and my mom used to visit her about 2-4 times per month for 1-3 days to check on her. She was thinking about either having her live with her or put her in a home nearby, so that she could visit her most days.
We haven’t told grandma yet that her daughter is dead. I told the cops not to notify her, I have to be the one to do it. There is no one else who should, I think. This will be my task for tonight. Maybe the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life. How will I do this? And what will I do with grandma? I cannot take her back to Germany, she doesn’t speak a single word of German.
As of right now it is 2:39 pm. My plane leaves at 5:05 and arrives at 6:10. Then it’s about one hour of driving from Nantes Airport to La Baule, where grandma lives. So about 4.5 hours until I have to tell her the worst news of probably her life.
I haven’t been able to cry yet, but I bet I will when grandma does.