This time last year I was with my mum and the rest of my family, at Blenheim Palace, celebrating mum's 90th birthday. My neighbours were becoming unbearable again and I was making plans for how to best look after my mum, whose Alzheimer's was increasingly affecting her.
In these last twelve months my family and I got out of our house, lived in a hotel for a while, moved in with my mum to try and care for her and then rented a place of our own when it became obvious that two small children and a 90 year old with dementia were not a good mix.
I hired carers to come in and check on mum when I wasn't around. Then I started to get calls from her, asking me how she should go to bed and whether she should visit her parents (they had been dead for decades). my wife and I took mum to various nursing homes but none were quite right. Either the residents were too far gone or the home wasn't geared up for dementia at all. I was at the end of my tether and wondering what to do when fate stepped in. Mum got an infection and ended up in hospital for weeks. Instead of sending her home they recognised she needed more care and sent her to a home which, at first seemed just right.
But it wasn't right. So my daughter and I visited another, more local place and deemed it suitable. Mum moved from one home to the other but gradually realised she wasn't going to improve. The dementia worsened, and she started to lose some of her legendary optimism.
At Christmas she stayed with us and, when it was time to go, admitted she had had enough.
In January she caught another infection and the doctor suggested a trip to hospital might not be the best thing for her. We visited regularly, noticing that mum was sleeping more and more. On one visit mum was laying in bed, unable to speak. She tried to say something to me which was, I thought, "I'm not going to go on."
The next day she couldn't get any words out at all.
The day after that my wife, who had been reading to her, called me and suggested I come over.
I sat with mum, talking to her and looking into her eyes. She seemed to want to sleep. Then she opened her eyes wide, as if to take one last look around, closed them and I hear d her breathing slowly quieten, fading to almost nothing. I listened hard, just like I do with my children some times, straining to hear a breath. There was no breath.
Mum had left the world with grace and dignity. We gave a her a good send off with remaining family and good friends attending the funeral. I've been busy with paperwork and all the usual fall out from the death of a parent.
Today though, is her birthday. Her 91st. Her optimism and kindness live on and those of us lucky enough to know her have plenty of great memories.
This year is going to be full of challenges and adventures and I can't wait to get started.