Saturday, November 7, 2015
Just over a month ago, my dear Mum died. I had actually been working on a blog post at the time about how I felt two years on since my dear Dad had passed away in the same month in 2013. I had written how, when I was reminded of him and/or thought about him, it didn't hurt anymore. For example, a few months ago when I was walking along Manly Beach, I heard a man whistling a tune that sounded just like my Dad's whistling in the same way, and I couldn't help but smile. Dad was always walking around the house singing or whistling. The memory didn't break my heart, it opened it. And it felt good.
A year ago, when my Mum's health seemed on the decline, I wasn't ready for her to go. I was still healing from my Dad's death the year before, and losing another parent seemed too much to bear at the time. Fortunately, her health improved (a change of medication made all the difference). For a while anyway. I was told by one of her doctors at the time that, 'Essentially, she is dying,' and so I prepared myself for the inevitable. He warned me how it would go: 'She will probably get a chest infection. The nursing home will call me and tell me she has a fever and then it will up to you and your sister to decide if we pump her full of antibiotics or make her comfortable.' She had lung cancer, amongst other health issues, and she was eighty-six at the time. In truth, she'd lived longer than we ever imagined she would.
Her death pretty much happened the way the doctor described it. My sister received a call from the (second) nursing home she lived in, in the very early hours of Saturday the 26 of September - the day before what would have been my Dad's ninetieth birthday - to tell her that our mum's breathing was becoming more difficult and she was not good. They advised my sister that they could either send her to hospital (where we knew they would probably pump her body intravenously with antibiotics - she'd already been through one round of them), or they could make her comfortable at the nursing home. My sister, much to my relief, chose the second option. I flew to Perth that afternoon. By the time I got there, Mum could barely breathe, and she was hallucinating - playing with the curtains near her bed and muttering something about 'the table'. She didn't seem to 'see' me. However, when I said, 'I love you, Mummy,' she replied, 'Love you too, Jodie.' I even repeated it to make sure I wasn't hearing things, as she seemed so out of it by then, and she, once again, told me she loved me. Clearly, with the oxygen not reaching her brain as sufficiently as it should have been, her brain was suffering - evidenced by the fact that for the past few weeks, she had been 'looking' for me. Not me, actually, but the younger me. My sister had found her looking around her chair one day and asked what she was looking for. My Mum replied, 'Where's Doll?' (The nickname she used for me when I was a little girl.) 'You mean, Jodie?' my sister asked, before explaining I was in Sydney. Another time, when my sister found her looking at her bookshelf, my Mum had told her she was, 'showing Jodie, Bull's room,' referring to my Mum's younger brother who had died some years ago.
The next day, after meeting with a doctor assigned to her at the time, it was decided we would start morphine. My Mum was eighty-seven years old, her health and mind had been deteriorating for the past year, and she had said repeatedly that she'd 'had enough'. It was a no-brainer - starting morphine and making her as comfortable as possible was the best option.
Like many people who are on the cusp of dying do, she had one last 'wakeful' moment before the morphine started. My nephew, his partner and his two boys walked in to visit on the Sunday and Mum suddenly perked up a little. She couldn't speak very well, but she managed a smile here and there, some food and a cuddle for her great-grandsons. As we left to allow her to rest, I was the last one out of the room. I turned back to her and said, 'Love you, Mum.' She smiled and replied, 'Love you.' It was the last time I would see her awake.
The following day - Monday 28 September - at around 6pm, my dear Mum took her last breath. I was with her when she died. Watching her go was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do (my heart was racing), but I'm also so glad I was there for her. A second after she exhaled for the last time, my sister walked in to her room (I had texted her to come - she was minutes down the road at home making us dinner - it happened so quickly in the end). I honestly felt as though at that moment, her spirit was leaving us to join Dad and Valda and the rest of her family. She waited for my sister and I to be there together - two women she had given life to were there to watch hers end.
I have been doing okay. My mother-in-law once said that losing the first parent is the most difficult, and although I think that may depend on the relationship you have with each parent etc, I would agree that is the case for me. I was very, very close to my dear Mum, but seeing her devastated by my Dad's death was difficult to witness. I know that by the time she left us, she was more than ready to go and there is a certain amount of joy for me in the knowledge that, after forty-four years, she has finally been reunited with my sister.
At her funeral - held a month ago today - I was sitting in the chapel listening to the Chaplin from Mum's nursing home read out the eulogy my sister and I had prepared and I couldn't help but smile. Mum may not have found the cure for cancer, or found a solution to ensure world peace, but what she did do really, really well, was create a lifetime of fond memories for those around her. My childhood is something I look back on with such a great sense of fondness, love and happiness, thanks in huge part to my Mum. Even though she experienced a lot of loss in her life (my sister, her parents, all her three - younger - siblings, and my dear Dad), she didn't stop smiling and creating joy for those around her. Who could ask for anything more than that?
My dear Mum. A talented woman who could decorate a birthday cake like no one else; who could sew dresses that looked like they were straight from a clothing store, and spent many hours sewing sequin after sequin on her daughter, Valda's ballroom-dancing costumes; who could always be found with a book in hand; who could cook the best baked-goods you could imagine; who taught her grandchildren the joy of looking for fairies in the garden; who passionately supported the West Coast Eagles and the Australian Cricket team; who could float around a swimming pool in an almost upright position - head up, her arms pushing her gently around the water; who could always be found with a jar of lollies ready to share with her grandchildren and great-grand children; who could polish an apple until it almost sparkled; who welcomed her daughters' friends with warmth and love; who made her family everything.
You will be SO missed, Mum. I'll love you always.