I do not remember the first call, the one she made to let me know it was terminal lung cancer. I do remember the call I received at four in the morning from the hospice six months later telling me she had died in the night. She had been alone, and I had left her.
It was April 2005, and I was 25 years old. My brother and I had visited her in the hospice the night before. She was barely conscious. Her breathing was so bad that her lungs were making a loud and disturbing cracking sound. She was on a large amount of pain medication and she did not speak a word, my mum was not there. I held her hand, but I do not remember if I spoke to her. Did I try to soothe her, tell her that I loved her and that whatever was happening, it would be okay? I think I knew she was close to death, but I do not remember how well I was processing it at the time. There is a numbness to these things, a fog that perhaps shields us from the worst of life’s realities.
The hospice staff were kind, they suggested we order in some food and eat in the dining room. I remember feeling so young and so alone. Surely at such times you need an adult or two. My brother and I had nobody; he was only 23. I do not think she was visited by any other family members at that time. Maybe she was, but they did not think to offer my brother and I some support and perhaps wisdom.
It got late and the hospice staff suggested we go home for some sleep. To this day I do not know if they knew she was about to die and wanted to spare us seeing her go. When we left, she pleaded with us not to go. She would have been so scared. Why did I keep walking?
After the call from the hospice, I rang my brother to tell him she had died. I do not remember if he cried. Russell, now my husband, drove me to collect my brother. He then drove us to the hospice where we went to see my mums’ dead body. She was cold and her skin was grey, there were fluids leaking from her ear. I held her hand as I stared and said goodbye. My brother and I wept and left, and that was the last time I saw her. I am glad I saw her then and not at the funeral home days later as I knew intuitively, she would have looked so much worse.
The days after were a blur. I arranged the funeral and the wake. I dealt with her finances. She had no property and very few belongings. There was no inheritance, just debt to be written off. I kept very few of her things.
The funeral was over, the extended family were gone, the friends got back to their lives and the shock wore off. Then the grief came. Heavy like stone and silent like a void. It knocked me to the ground. It was mine and mine alone.
Accepting she is dead and forgiving life for it has been hard. I wish she had met Charlie. A treasure for the poor.
My father is a very harmful person, I think he cannot help it and I am left orphaned. Accepting that and forgiving life for it has also been hard. It tested the realms of what was possible for me. It has tested the very fabric of who I am. I won out.
Loss is abundant. Mistakes or wrong choices urge us to reflect upon them, to learn and grow up. This is the stuff wisdom is born of.
I wish I had stayed with her. When someone you love is scared or in pain and asks you to stay close and pay attention. For the night or for several years. Listen. Be brave. Look loss and fear and uncertainty in the face and love regardless. Being afraid of death should not prevent us from living. Disease should not prevent us from taking care of each other. A Covid19 death is not more important than a death from cancer or a preventable suicide. I am not sure that my son’s mental health is less important than his great grandfathers’ life, but we must ask the hard questions and search for sane answers.
I wish I could call my mum now, in 2020 and talk about the world and the things I do not understand. She would have found a way of making it ridiculous, something I am, perhaps not so good at. I wish I could go back to April 2005 and stay with her, be by her side when she left this world, but I cannot. I wish my mum could hold my beautiful son, be proud of me for my masterpiece but she never will. She is dead, that is the way life is and I must accept that.
Forgive it all, and live. Really live.