Last suppers

I went to dinner with mum last night, just the two of us. We went to an Italian restaurant in Kew, Centenove, far better than the average suburban restaurant. It was a civilised and pleasant evening.

It was good to get away from things. I think we both felt that. It was good to meet up somewhere in the middle and enjoy some of the great pleasures a civilised society can provide. The food all night was excellent (the veal cotoletta was the best I’ve ever had), the wine excellent, the service efficient and friendly, and the general atmosphere convivial, lively and warm. Towards the end of the night, mum ordered a Dom Benedictine on impulse, and I joined her with a PX. It was that kind of night.

For all that, nothing was avoided. Mum has been a little down lately. Last week she attended two funerals on one day. One had died at the ripe old age of 95, but the other prematurely of cancer not 6 months after diagnosis. Then a few days later, a friend who had been diagnosed with cancer at the same time as mum reported how he was now in palliative care after doing so well. Not surprisingly, mum felt pretty depressed by all of this.

She admitted last night that she was scared of dying. That’s natural too, and yet I felt on hearing it a kind of chill. Why wouldn’t you be afraid of dying? Except I had never thought of that aspect. Maybe it was because mum seemed so philosophical about the whole thing. There was the impression that she had come to terms with it, and in some ways, was ready for what was to come. I suppose it doesn’t matter how ready you are, it must seem terribly daunting as it comes near. She told a story of the 95-year-old, a strong woman by all accounts, who was observed shaking in hospital. “What’s wrong with you,” they asked? “Are you sick? Cold?”

“No,” she said, “I’m afraid of dying.”

It still seems mightily unreal to me. How can I be sitting opposite my mother, sipping on a fine sherry, enjoying a lovely evening knowing that soon she will be gone forever? How does it change from this to that?

We talked of arrangements, amongst other things. We are writing her eulogy together. She spoke of who she wants to speak at her funeral. We discussed things that still need to be done, made suggestions for this and that in a tone totally foreign to the subject.

Inevitably the conversation turned to memories. She spoke of her mother and father, then her aunt, who she was particularly close to, and her uncle, a lovely man I remember as an old-style Australian – tall, lean, a laconic nature, a wry sense of humour, and a kind, warm heart. He used to call her Ooks, she said. As she relayed her memories, I played in my mind my own memories of them, all dead now, but once as large as life and fondly part of my life. Do you think you’ll see them…up there? I asked at one stage. Yes, she said – mum is the only one of us who believes in God.

We spoke of more recent memories, of people and times and moments we all shared, so fresh, so real and vibrant, so now – and no longer. Once more, as I have times before this, I felt crushed by the sheer mass of these memories passed on and aghast to think that when mum goes, so too does my link to those people and that time. How can this be? How can this be?

It was a nice night. We met well and enjoyed the occasion. I was glad to have these moments with mum. We parted, having shared a lovely meal. But with each moment, the time comes nearer when mum becomes a memory too, and I just can’t understand that.