I sit, lifeless, on my darkened veranda. The evening’s coolness numbs me for the next wave of sorrow scheduled to roll across my exhausted form. Damp shadows keep me company and trees patiently observe, prepared as they have been by other nights before this; they too can feel it coming. I wait... and take a deep breath as grief forces itself upon me.
My mother is gone...
I am yet to fully comprehend these words. My mind wonders how anyone has endured this universal suffering before me. I am behind a wall of glass, like a tortoise in an aquarium - looking out at faces, mouthing words, unable to speak. In my own world of water. I go to work as if nothing has happened, but at night an ache comes over me and there is no escape. I am completely alone and drowning.
I remember her voice, her laugh. I imagine scenarios where she returns to me, her spirit strong. Please Mum, come back.... I know you can hear me...
but the night closes in and I know that she is not coming.
Abandoned, I flick through the pages of my journal; I know I will find her there. I come upon an entry written only three months ago. But the words are shocking and sad. I was not talking to her then. She had called me to say she never wanted to see me again, her voice screeching from the end of her phone to my hotel room. I had visited her earlier that day and the inevitable argument had simply followed me there.
I knew the pattern between us would never cease. Mum would confide in me, then banish me for knowing her. She preferred the company of strangers who were not privy to her melancholy. The Kathy they saw had all of life’s answers. My Kathy was often sad and sometimes lonely. And her denial meant that there was nothing I could do about it.
I wanted a more peaceful existence. I knew Mum loved me and it was not a conscious thing for her to make me miserable. But there was no getting through to her. This time she had broken my heart. So I stopped arguing and stayed away.
I remember, at that time, resigning myself to my mother’s death. If something should happen to her, I needed to be certain I had no unfinished business, no regrets. I had done all I could. Said all I wanted to say.
Yes, I would be okay.
Six weeks later, I got an unexpected phone call. Mum was in hospital. That’s all I knew.
I drove, sobbing into the night, to see her.
I arrived to find her in a cancer ward; a dried, shrunken version of her former self. She was in pain and could not eat. Yet, surrounded by visitors day and night, she chose to use her remaining energy to put on a show for them. People I hardly knew arrived, crying and acting like they had known her all their lives. Mum joked happily along with the cocktail of painkillers on the menu. Her popularity filled the room, removing the morbid silence that near-death had brought the patients alongside her.
When I kept the visitors at bay, Mum slept with shallow breaths and death appeared upon her face. I sat holding her hand. In just a week, part of her was already gone. Her eyes had changed to a cloudy blue-grey; I knew she didn’t have long. And when it was time to leave the hospital, she was no longer excited. She was tearful and scared.
Back at home, Mum admitted everything – the phone call, not eating, not feeling well - all the things we had been fighting about. I felt so sad for her and wished I could take it all away. But the mother I missed so much had returned to me, and for that I was so very grateful. I was no longer the ‘too busy daughter’ who was last to know, the last to visit the hospital. It didn’t matter anyway.
Less than a fortnight later, she was gone.