My blog was quiet for a very long time. I wanted to write about Mum's death, but I got stuck.
I couldn't get it right.
So I didn't write anything.
But there's no right way, is there?
I had waited until she was hooked up to the drip bag for her 123rd dose of antibiotics.
Forty-nine still to come.
‘Love you, Mum. See you on the iPad.’
That’s what I said as I leant in to brush her cheek with my lips —our family is like that, lingering hugs and heartfelt endearments rare.
My words were breathy, snagging on the ropy ache of farewell.
And I left her seated in that now-familiar curtained corner of a shared ward, both of us having lost the battle to remain dry-eyed.
I gave Mum an iPad for her 80th birthday and it rapidly became her constant companion. So I sent photos with my message from the Dubai transit lounge, even though her Messenger account had been inactive for 17 hours.
When she still hadn’t logged on by the time we cleared passport control at Heathrow, I was concerned.
I knew something was wrong when her account was still inactive after my devices reconnected to our home Wi-Fi. If, as planned, she was ensconced in her freshly made bed, finally surrounded by her own things after a month of hospitalisation, she would have told me.
Something had happened.
Something had gone astray and our trans-global life-line was lifeless.
* * * * *-
Mine was not a cuddle-filled childhood, but I never doubted that I am loved.
I worshipped my dad. I realise now that I probably shouldn’t have, but ours was the stereotypical family of the 1960s. He was the breadwinner. Mum treated him as the lord of the manor; he treated me as his special girl.
All I did, I did to please Dad. To gain his approval. One of his catch cries was ‘There’s no second prizes’. He’d worked hard for all his success and expected the same from us. And yes, I think his attitude has messed with my head in multiple ways throughout my lifetime. But I adored him.
Mum fulfilled the conventional roles of supportive corporate wife and mother of two with style. I don’t recall ever seeing her flustered. Or truly angry. At least certainly not in the way that my children have witnessed my meltdowns and moments of near-spontaneous combustion.
I didn’t worship or adore Mum.
I just loved her.
And took all that she did and was for granted.
That’s how things just seem to go with mothers... isn't it?
She was Mum.
She was always there, calmly making my life more secure and successful.
|I wore Mum's little hat to the Cup Eve dinner|
Everything about me was OK by her.
That’s just how mothers make you feel... right?
* * * * *
For a month I lived in her unit at the retirement village, taking her place at social functions, answering concerned questions and accepting heartfelt wishes for her recovery.
While there, I scrubbed walls and floors, renewed furnishings, filled the freezer with meals, updated the technology and refreshed the pot-plants. I added non-slip bathroom and kitchen mats, a shower-seat, a frame around the loo and organised home-nurse visits and deliveries from the chemist.
And spent countless hours by Mum's side.
All the while, Mum battled infection and illness. At times almost unrecognisable —frail, childlike, she barely made an imprint in the impossibly high bed and could not remember what had happened. On occasions, her resilience and pragmatism greeted me as I arrived. And sometimes, she was cranky, dissatisfied and uncomfortable.
|Mum's gorgeous besties at the Cup Eve dinner|
Our roles were reversed.
I was mothering her —administering sympathy and care, bolstering her confidence, bringing her treats, growling at her to eat her meals and do the exercises that she hated. And on cranky days, reminding her that the nurses were busy and she was not the centre of their universe.
But she was the centre of mine.
A few weeks in, I told her I was proud of how she had battled her way from that frightening intensive care bed to the casual rehab ward. But I had to remind her that her fight was not over. She would have to continue her efforts even at home as she would still be connected to that omni-present anti-biotic drip for two more weeks.
She assured me she had decided to do whatever it took.
And she made me promise to return to London at the end of the month as planned, on the same flight that my son had been booked on some six months earlier.
By the day she was due to be released, no cobwebs dared haunt the corners of her unit — her sparkling flowery nest. But, as had happened so often before, the date slipped without explanation. She was now going home on the morning after our midnight flight.
Reluctantly, I organised for my sister-in-law to collect Mum and taxi her home.
Even more reluctantly, I said my goodbye.
* * * * *
|Moon over Canary Wharf the morning Mum died|
By the time we reached Greenwich, Mum was in an induced coma.
She fell getting into the car.
Her head cracked against the curb.
She never left the hospital grounds.
A doctor was awaiting my approval to disconnect her from the machinery.
My mother was gone.
I was 26 when my dad died. I was devastated. Of course. But I don’t think I mourned him for very long.
I missed him.
I still do.
I ached to talk to him again.
I still do.
But at 26 I was self-absorbed: I had a new job, an exciting social life and the world was full of promise. I was making my way alone, headstrong and independent.
Mourning Mum is different.
Not just because we shared 23 more years — 23 of my adult years.
Not just because she loved and was loved by my husband and children — who Dad never met.
Nor even because I wasn't there with her at the end.
It's all that plus more.
She was my Mum.
She was always there.
She loved me unconditionally.
Even when I didn't deserve it.
Coz that's what mums do, isnt it?