Nursing my mother has become something of a preoccupation. Not so much to keep her alive as to make these last days comfortable. She is not in pain she tells me time and again, but her legs weep. I never knew this. I never knew that legs could ooze liquid as if they have become my mother’s eyes and she cries all the time through tiny holes and blisters in the skin around her swollen ankles.
It is a side effect of congestive cardiac failure the doctors say and there is not much they can do apart from reducing her fluid intake and trying to keep her fluid retention down. But my mother could not survive on a single litre of fluid a day.
I notice she does not even keep a tally on the number of drinks, cups of tea, juice and water she consumes and to my way of thinking why should she? It will not make a huge difference. This slow grinding down heart will only get worse.
Late on Friday night when I unpacked my mother’s bags after she had finally returned from hospital to her retirement village, I noticed a set of wooden rosary beads.
‘Do you want these nearby,’ I asked.
‘Put them there,’ she said and she pointed to the table beside her chair.
‘My father carved that crucifix out of wood,’ my mother said. ‘They were my father’s beads.’
Even to the end my mother has her father in mind. She was his favourite. He was hers. Strange then that my mother should marry a man such as my father, a man who could not/did not make her his favourite, or at least not in so far as I could ever see.
I have yet to work out the psychology behind my mother’s choice of husband, or should I say her husbands, for there were two.
The second husband puzzled me even more, but she was happy with him and although he seemed to me an uncouth, ocker sort of bloke who often put her down, he also treated her well to a degree, though not sufficient to cater for her well enough after their seventeen-year-old marriage ended in his death several years ago.
He left almost everything to his own children and very little for my mother after he died apart from the choice to live in his house for as long as she wanted before it was turned over to his two remaining children.
My mother refused to contest the will. She did not want to make trouble for anyone and so she eked out the last of her days on a pension and the good will of some of her children, leaving only the money she had invested in her room at the retirement village, which will be distributed between all her children on her death.
I have often been jealous of friends whose parents leave a huge monetary inheritance. I know I should be satisfied with my inheritance as it stands from both my parents, my education, my sense of myself, my capacities in most endeavours, but I cannot help but think what a wonderful help it would be to become suddenly rich as has happened to a few of my friends on the death of their respective parents.
Not so for my husband and me. We have been, as far as wealth is concerned, self made. We paid for our own wedding. We have worked hard to support ourselves throughout the years of our marriage and now at this stage I am not so confident that I have not repeated history, managed my affairs badly and will not leave a large legacy to our children, only debts that might consume whatever assets we have gained. I hope this does not happen.
I do not live to leave my children huge wealth but I’d like to think there might be more left over for them when we die than has been left for us, for both my husband and I. His parents were not much better off than my parents and they too had a large family of six.
There is something in this forward looking to my own death which relates I am sure to my mother’s slow and steady decline into lifelessness, but as I drove back home last night from the retirement village after I had tucked my mother into her recliner chair where she now plans to sleep each night – she sleeps better there, as her heels do not rub – I thought I am grateful for this time, this time of nursing my mother, this time to make peace with her.
I have not always been such a faithful daughter.