The colour of death

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‘Is that a nun over there,’ my mother asks.  
I look in the direction of her pointed
finger.  The empty bed in the four
bed ward of the Dandenong Hospital is stripped of blankets in preparation for
the next arrival.  There are
gadgets and boxes set in the wall and metal bars from floor to ceiling to
support the curtains.  The only
thing that resembles a nun is the blood pressure monitor.  A round dial the size of a face with a
dark border.  
Only in my
imagination could I see it as a nun, and even then not without prompting.
  
‘Maybe you need your glasses,’ I say.
‘It looks like a nun,’ my mother says again, and that over
there, in the oven.  What are they
cooking?’
My mother’s mind flips into these vague disconnected
thoughts.  I flip into my own.
Three weeks ago my mother fell.  A typical fall the doctors told us in a woman with a urinary
tract infection.  She must have had the
infection for a long time it would seem. 
Infections make people unstable.   My mother fell flat on her face, twisting her arm in the
process.
 
The staff at her retirement village bundled her onto a
trolley and took her straight to hospital when she complained of pain in her
arm.  
‘Broken’, the doctors
declared and she may be bleeding internally.
My mother sits up in bed, her arm propped up in a foam
sling.  She looks every bit like a
photo I have of her own mother after she had died.  Grey, the colour of death, but my mother is like a cat with nine lives.  She survives.

My grandmother not long before she died.

My mother rallies.  
The doctors catheterize here.  The infection clears with antibiotics and over the course of a week she
can recognize that the nun across the room is not a nun.
She’s frightened of dying, one of my brothers says.  It happens to the deeply
religious.  He saw it years ago
when he was visiting the elderly clergy, bishops, priests, nuns all.  The most devout among us.
Atheists imagine death should come
easily to the devout, it’s a comfort, but that’s not the case at all. Death for the religious is to be avoided because death is the moment of
judgment and they’re about to be judged.
My mother slinks down in her bed.  She groans when the nurse tries to
shift her.
I think about death. 
It’s easy to say I’m not frightened.  I’m not worried about heaven or Hell.  My judgment will not come later.  My judgment is now.
Back in time I sit in the church of Our Lady of Good
Counsel.  The priest at the altar
raises the host to the hosanna chorus and we all bow our heads.  I go through the motions.  I kneel and hold my hands together in
prayer; but my mind wanders.  
I watch
the other people in their seats, on their knees.  The man in front with a bald head bangs his prayer book
onto the head of a small boy who is chattering to his sister in the row in
front of him.
The look on the boy’s face, red-faced with shame.  
I would not let myself get caught out
so.  I keep my thoughts to
myself.
 
I can see my grade three teacher three rows further in the
front.  Her black hair tied in a
tight bun.  Her beauty transparent.
Then I recite my mantra to myself:  my mother is the most beautiful woman
in the world, second only to the blessed virgin Mary.  Then comes Miss Andersen, my teacher.  Everyday I watch Miss Andersen in class.  Her face like an angel.
My eyes scan the stations of the cross.  The thought hits me hard. 
Death.  What will I do if my mother dies?  I cannot live if my mother dies.  Surely I will die, too.
 
Back in the hospital my mother is asleep.  She snores.  
In my head I am calm.
My mother will die one day soon enough.  But I am calm.
The little girl in me lived so long ago I can hardly hear
her fearful thoughts let alone remember her feelings.
Does my mother know? 
Does she sense her children waiting, waiting for her to go.
And is it true, that she holds off because she is fearful
of that final judgment?   
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5 Comments on The colour of death

  1. PhilipH
    April 18, 2014 at 1:07 pm (3 years ago)

    Life goes on. Aye, there's the rub.

    Even more certain than taxes is death. I hate tax, as do most of us, but death is THE inevitable part of life and, unlike tax, cannot be avoided or evaded so why be scared of death?

    I feel sorry for your Mum being so afraid of death because of her belief in her religion. But then again 'religion' has much to answer for, that's why I steer well clear of any and all of it.

    Reply
  2. Anthony Duce
    April 18, 2014 at 8:02 pm (3 years ago)

    Enjoyed, as usual. I've always thought life and death would be easier for those who could just believe. They were some how luckier than me, not having to having to reason or find at least a few facts to help figure the big questions in life out.. But I think your observation here is right. It may be easier without the conflicting stories and some one’s opinion judging what happens in the end.

    Reply
  3. Rob-bear
    April 19, 2014 at 5:01 pm (3 years ago)

    There are two universals in life: birth and death. Some could (and have) thrown in taxes.

    My faith has taught me not to fear death (thought sometimes Christian preaching has done the opposite). The fear of that which is beyond our control is a bit unhealthy, perhaps, at any time.

    I hope your mum can rest well, and die peacefully. It is the same wish I have for everyone.

    Blessings and Bear hugs!

    Reply
  4. Jim Murdoch
    April 20, 2014 at 4:01 am (3 years ago)

    I have not been to many funerals. More funerals than weddings. More weddings than christenings. I don’t remember my first but I do remember whose funeral it was and I remember a kind of enthusiasm running through me although at the time I didn’t realise this was the writer in me stirring. Now it doesn’t matter what the situation, who’s dying or what; I feel him step to the side and begin observing and recording allowing only a part of me to participate in the proceedings. The funeral that jumps to mind after reading your post was one I went to at Hawkhill Cemetery, Stevenston. I forget who’d died. But she was religious and all the attendees were of a similar persuasion. What puzzled me at the time—and still does to some extent—was the outpouring of grief; some of the women were bordering on the inconsolable. And I didn’t get that. I got that they’d miss her but she’d made it, she remained “faithful unto death” (Rev. 2:10) and was guaranteed—guar-en-teed—her reward so this should have been a time for rejoicing. It made me wonder about the faith of these women who were sobbing so.

    I don’t fear death. I have no romantic notions about it. I don’t believe that when I die I’ll find out if I was right or wrong to quit my faith. Death is a release. I won’t hurt anymore. Granted I’m not in agony and you do get used to pain after a while but it would be nice not to hurt. I hurt right now. My neck, my back, my legs from going out yesterday, my right eye, my head, my knees from the weight of the board and laptop and if I got up and moved around a bit I’m sure other things would hurt too. Christ knows what state I’ll be in if I survive until ninety if this is me at fifty-four. But for all I don’t fear death I’m in no rush to die. Not as long as my life has meaning and purpose.

    I’ve never known anyone who was nearing death. My parents both dropped dead. Their deaths were unexpected. I knew they’d die someday or other but I hadn’t quite got to the stage of imagining a world without them in it. And then suddenly it was there, first my dad and then my mum. With Dad it was a heart attack, his second (the first was when I was thirteen); Mum died of pneumonia which was a blessing because she had cancer and it would’ve been a miserable and protracted death and I was glad she didn’t have to go through that and that I didn’t have to watch her go through it. Every time the phone rings nowadays I wonder if it’s Carrie’s brother with the news that one of their parents has died. Mostly it’s people wanting to sell me double glazing, also an unwelcome call. Thankfully the payment protection insurance calls have dried up. If there is a hell and I end up there it’ll probably be a call centre and I’ll be forced to make those calls for the rest of eternity.

    Reply
  5. Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte
    May 16, 2014 at 8:47 am (3 years ago)

    Death. It leaves such a peaceful image on the person gone. It must be a relief if stresses of life, of pain. Why fear it? It is all because we were taught fear . We were not born afraid. Pity that religion teaches fear. Love is better. I am looking forward to peace when the day comes for me.
    Till then I hope daily life will carry on routinely.

    Reply

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