One year on

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of mum’s death. Unsurprisingly it’s been on my mind the last few days. The other night I went back and read this blog leading up to and out of this event. It felt so fresh and vivid. I remembered all, remembered the strange state I existed in for a few days, the extremes of emotion, the melancholy contemplation. It was a horrible time.

A year on I’m past the casual absence of mum. I no longer pick up the phone to call her, or think ‘I must tell mum that’. Occasionally things crop up and I wish I could pose a question to her. There are pangs of regret sometimes that I didn’t ask some questions I’ll never have answers to. I know she’s dead and gone though, I have absorbed that truth into my daily routine. I still miss her though when I think of her.

In the last few weeks there have been a couple of things that brought home to me the difference in a world where she no longer exists. It was my birthday early in the month and for mum this was always an excuse to put on a show. If we did not go out for lunch or dinner then she would cook something at home for us. Gifts were presented with great fanfare, and I think mum was always more excited by it than I was. It was infectious nonetheless. There was none of that this year.

I had a couple of drinks with friends spread over the weekend. I had a birthday lunch with my sister and her kids the following weekend. That was pretty well it. Now I’m not one for extravagant displays on my birthday. I guess I’m more inclined to the cool end of things. I sort of missed it though because it brought home to me the great loss mum has been. It was so low-key that it was not until a week later that I had only received my present this year – a bottle of beer Cheeseboy brought with him to share with me on the occasion. Another gift I later bought on behalf of my sister. That was it. A far cry.

Then I had my operation. As it has turned out it has been much more intrusive than I ever expected. Up to a couple of days ago I was really struggling (the miracle of anti-inflammatories – Prednisolone – has worked wonders since). Now I had the Cheeses offer to help me out through this, but the only real problem I had was getting my trousers on. The offer was much appreciated all the same. I like to be self-sufficient, and will always try to get by before requesting help. Still, I couldn’t help but think of mum. She’d have been all over this. She wouldn’t have nursed me – that isn’t her style – but she’d have been in constant contact, she’d have come by bearing pastries or something, she would be just ‘there’, as good mums are.

We don’t always see that until we miss it. So, a year on, it’s probably worth repeating, thanks mum, for everything, and I love you.

Passing through

This morning I had to pay mum’s old paper bill. As I’ve become accustomed to I explained that she had passed away and the service was no longer required or applicable. As on pretty much every occasion I was offered polite commiserations; and as on every other occasion I felt uncomfortable responding to them. Everyone is nice, their sympathy genuine. I appreciate it, but any response of mine seems inadequate. Rather than saying anything I now respond with a nod of the head.

It’s feels so odd to tell people that my mum is ‘deceased’ or has ‘passed-away’. They seem such mealy-mouthed phrases, acceptable cliches to denote death – but, as I’ve come to understand, so much easier to squeeze out than to express the blunt truth that mum is ‘dead’. It seems to me a ritual we fall into by conventional habit to manage an awkward situation. We skate across the surface of things with words like this, but there seems a touch of the absurd to it when I stop to think about it. They are like scripted lines, I say mum has passed away, the other responds with conventional platitudes, and I am left as I walk from the newsagents recalling the famous skit from Monty Python about the dead parrot.

Of course there is something stranger than the mere expressions of sympathy. Odd as the words are, they seem occasionally to be incredible when I utter them in relation to my own mother. Is she dead? Really? Really? Though it has been 2 months now it often seems unreal still. It’s such an enormous concept that it’s hard to grasp that the person who was ever there will never be there again – and in fact has gone, deceased, passed away.

There are times it feels very real. Over the weekend I decided to go through some of mum’s cupboards and drawers to begin the slow process of dismantling the story of her life. There were a lot of memories there. At one point I picked up a pile of old cooking magazines and sat down to go through them. I discovered that in many mum had made little notes. Perhaps in every second magazine there was a sheet of a notebook taped to the inside cover with a list of recipes she fancied alongside the corresponding page number in mum’s distinct and flowing handwriting. I sat and looked at the words, so banal really, while somewhere in the back of my mind I pondered at the time and situation mum first scribbled those lines. I felt a kind of controlled sadness, and a sense almost of waste. Mostly I carry on, but there are regular moments when I feel the grief spill over in me. At times I feel like a little boy who has lost his mother in the crowd.

At times I am different, almost blunt. The phone rings, it is someone trying to sell something. They ask for mum. She’s not here I say. Sometimes I tell them that Mrs Davis doesn’t exist. They get confused. When will she be back? They ask. She won’t be back I tell them, she’s passed away. Mostly they apologise and go away, though one then tried to sell something to me. No thanks.

Besides the grief there are times I feel guilty. I try and understand what it is I feel guilty at. Could I have done more? No, not really. I did all I could in the end, and she appreciated it, but before then… I realise finally that I feel guilty that I didn’t appreciate mum sufficiently while she was alive. And guilty that I had no real conception of what it would be like to lose her. These are not things I can change now, and are sufficiently human I think to be forgiven at some point – I’m the lose after all. It’s for this reason though I get so angry at the shenanigans related to her will. They seem so small, so petty, in perspective to mum’s death, and so disrespectful of her.

When I look back, as occasionally I do, I see people disappearing from my life like so many green bottles. Grandparents, then aunts and uncles, and now my mum. Once upon a time I was in the middle of a loving family. I felt loved, even adored, and sometimes spoilt. One by one they exit, until there are so few left. With the passing of mum I know my greatest supporter has gone, and the person who loved me best in all the world. I feel guilty at not properly acknowledging that, and miss it now that life feels so trying. Time goes on, these wounds will heal, I’ll find others to love and be loved by, but for now, sometimes, I feel isolated and more alone than I ever have before knowing that there is one less person pulling for me.

Grief is personal. We pine not for the person who has gone, but for what we have lost in their passing. It’s a process of perfectly understandable selfishness and, I guess, a process that must be passed through.

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.