Last tears

It’s been a while since I last wrote. I’ve been very busy. I’m due to move out of home tomorrow and have been frantically packing up the house. I might have had that sorted sooner but for the fact that other things have taken me away. Foremost amongst all of them is mum.

The pattern for the last 10 days or so is that I’ll be up and out early with the car packed. I’ll drive the few suburbs over where I’ll deposit the contents of the car – clothes, wine, food from the pantry, books & work stuff – in mum’s empty home. I’ll then visit mum in hospital for about an hour. One day – Tuesday – I even brought her home, only for for her to return to hospital, too ill to remain alone. After visiting mum, or sometimes before, I’ll attend to other things. One day I had to take my two rifles to a local gunshop for storage. On another day I dropped by the funeral parlour to arrange things. Other times I pay bills for mum. or drop a load of stuff off at the nearest charity. Generally I’m home by 1pm.

For the most part I work through the afternoon packing. I’ve barely looked at anything work related for the last month. I’m meant to be studying for Six Sigma, but it’s been weeks since I’ve done that. Nor have I contributed much to this journal. I pack and I organise things – cancelling services, organising removalists, and storage, liaising with people who come to collect my rubbish, or to patch up the walls from where I’ve taken down prints. By the end of each day I’m tired and sore. More than anything I’m mentally exhausted because I’ve crammed so much into my head. Much of that is a kind of grief.

The end is near for mum, though it can be deceptive. I visited her on Friday and she was out of bed reading the newspaper in the chair. She was as good as she gets. I left her a Chinese guide book to go through, and later in the day she called me to talk about it, even searching through the index at my prompting.

I saw her again Saturday morning. The streets are always quiet and the hospital more peaceful on a weekend. Mum was asleep when I walked in. I sat and listened to her breathe. It was uncomfortable. Her breath was deeply drawn and crackly, and would pause sometimes. Facing me, her pale blonde hair across her face, she looked cadaverous. When she woke she could barely speak, though her eyes were bright. Her voice was slurred, her lips thick. It was distressing. I remembered she was going to die, and thought then what an awful way to go. I began to cry, turning to the window to hide my tears. Quickly I regained control. The nurse came in and announced that they were moving mum that afternoon to a hospice, as we had all agreed. Another visitor arrived and I took a break. I walked outside in the cool fresh air and I cried again.

Yesterday I visited her at the hospice in Wantirna. She was worse again. It was terrible. She lay there with her eyes half open, neither asleep nor quite conscious. One eye was more open than the other. Her mouth moved as if to speak, but no words came. I sat beside her holding her hand and talking just to make noise. When the doctor arrived there were tears in my eyes again.

We went to another room and I asked what had happened – the decline had been so rapid. She was a young and sympathetic Asian doctor searching for answers as I was. I was surprised to find that there had been little communication with the hospital – they were relying on what we had to tell them. I explained how well mum had been Friday. She told me that the hospital had upped my mum’s dose of morphine from 60 to 100 on Friday. I had not known this, and didn’t know why. The dose had been reduced down to 60 whiule I sat besides mum, and maybe that might make a different. To my inexpert mind it seemed more than coincidental that mum should become virtually comatose at the same time that her dose had been increased. I found hope thinking that she might recover, if only briefly.

I left after an hour. As I sat in the car in the carpark different things came into my head. I thought how I never wanted to see mum like that. No child should see their mother in that state. Given a choice I knew I’d have stayed away. Even as I thought that though it hit me that I might have seen my mum for the very last time. It seemed so unfair, so wrong. I wanted to say my goodbyes to the mum I remembered. I wanted her bright and knowing. I wanted to take my leave properly. That was denied to me – life is not that neat. On Friday I had bought her a packet of snakes – she liked snakes – and had left giving one to her and taking one for myself. If only I had known then.

In my pocket as I drove away where some of her jewels. I had left her rings, but on the nurses advice had taken the bracelets and mum’s watch from her, total value about 30 grand. It was sensible advice, but I felt terrible about it. It was almost like acknowledging, you’re done now, you don”t need these, I’ll take them from you. It seemed wrong that she should not be wearing them – bling is so much a part of her. It felt like I was stripping the dead, and I felt guilty at that.

Guilt is present, even if irrational. Last night after packing more I sat down to watch TV and a program I knew mum had been watching. I couldn’t help thinking how she was lying there alone in her bed, suffering, confused probably, dying. It seemed wrong that I should be taking my ease while she has trapped somewhere between life and death.

One thing has changed in me through this: I’ve come to term with my tears. I’m not a man who likes to cry. Sure, some of it is embarrassment, but more is the loss of control it heralds. I’ve got used to my tears now, and understand their need. I still don’t like to be seen like that, but realise it is normal. I break down sometimes. I’m sensitive to nuance and feeling. I pack something away that reminds me of mum and I am sad again. I call people to tell them of mum and in response to their kind words find myself choking up and unable to speak while they comfort me from a distance. I’ve cried as I’ve been writing this. To lose your mother at any time is pretty overwhelming. To do so like this is cruel and inhumane. Tears are one of the few outlets we have.

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