Memory is a testy beast

Three days before my mother died, I
lost my watch, and not for the first time.  It is a watch I have worn for at least fifteen years.  When I could not find it in any of the likely places, I took this loss as an omen, a sign of change ahead and
bought myself a new watch in honour of my mother. 
Three days after we buried her, I found my old watch again, this time in the freezer.  It
must have slipped off in the action of lifting the freezer lid and it rested there on top
of the puff pastry until I saw it again last night when my husband was making
lamb pies for dinner.  
The watch was still ticking
time, if not a little cold, as cold as my mother’s body when I had leaned over
her coffin and touched her hand the night before her funeral. 
The funeral parlour people had laid
my mother out for a viewing in a blouse and skirt my sisters had chosen for
her.  My mother’s hands were interlinked, as if in prayer, in a way they were not the day she died. 
Then they were stretched out in front of her on the patch work quilt the
hospital had provided in a bid to make her look as if she were in an ordinary bed at home.
My sister told me later that they
massage people’s limbs after death when embalming them into more fitting
shapes.  But the woman in the coffin was no
longer my mother.  Her smile, stretched tight
across her thin lips, looked too wide by half and her face had been
compressed. The sight of her left me cold.  
I could not shed a tear for my mother then in
the funeral parlour because the wax work figure in her
place reminded me of someone I once knew, a colleague, whom I was not fond of,
and so I chose not to stay too long with my mother’s body in the coffin, but to
enjoy my memories of her as she had lived.
I last lost my watch a few years ago in Brighton, England, when I was there for a conference.  It seemed an omen then, too, to lose a watch
among the brightly lit stalls along the Brighton pier or down among the pebbles
on the beach, so different from our sand here in Australia. 
I found my watch again that time, too,
this time in the bottom of my bag.  But I
will never find my mother again and it takes some getting used to.  This sense that she will not return, that I
can never again ask her questions about her life or mine. 
And memory is such a testy
beast.  The week before my mother died I
went to collect some items from the drycleaner, most of them were ready but a
few had not been completed and so I said I’d collect them on my next
visit, which I did. 
I now find my trousers are missing, loved trousers, black with an embossed check in the fabric.  They must still be at the drycleaners, but no,
the drycleaner reckons today, I must have misplaced them at home.
I tell the drycleaner – I’m a long
term customer and know him well, as well as anyone can know a drycleaner – my
mother died and this past week has been unsettled. 
Then I regret the telling.  He might think I’m a bit unhinged.  It lets him off the hook.  No longer his responsibility to look for my trousers
among the rows of plastic coated offerings, all attached to a number.  None attached to my number. 
I tell him, I’ll look again at home.  Maybe like my watch, but unlike my mother, my
trousers will show up soon. 

A world without my mother

My mother died at ten to five on
Saturday morning in Bethlehem Hospital in Caulfield.  For so long now I have anticipated this event, my words seem over-rehearsed, almost
theatrical. 
Ever since my older sister rang,
soon after the hospital had called her to report our mother’s death, I have
been in a strange place of going-on-living in the usual sense of the word, and
of floating about in a world of impossibility.  
A world without my mother. 
For so long now I have anticipated
her death, from when I was a little girl of eight when it first occurred to me
with any coherence that one day my mother would die. 
Then I could not bear the thought
of her death, until three years ago when it became clear my mother’s actual
death would happen sooner than later. 
My mother never made it to one
hundred, as she so often told us she had wanted.  She could go on living as long as her body
held out and she was comfortable and without pain, but these last three weeks
have seen her stop eating, stop drinking and eventually lose all will to
live.  But even then, she held on for as
long as she could. 
I did not hear her spirit fly away
across the sky like a comet.  Nor did I
hear her tiptoe past my door in the still of the morning.  I woke only to the insistent ring of the
telephone.  When I came to find my mother
laid out in the day room at Bethlehem she was still warm to touch.  My older sister reckons our spirit stays with
our bodies for some time after we die. 
I wanted to believe this.  I was first to arrive at the hospital and
when I walked into the room and saw my mother on the bed I found myself like a
small child pleading with her to wake up. 
‘Wake up, Mum.  You can’t stay asleep, not now, not forever.’ 
My mother to me is as timeless as
the sun and she lives on in me, as traces of her exist in my children, and
further traces exist in their children into the future. 
I did not spend much time alone
with my mother before my older sister, who had further to travel, arrived and
then my younger sister and two of our brothers – the five of us who still live
in Melbourne – and together we sat around our mother’s cooling body and talked
about her and us and all things significant and temporary in this quiet
time. 
We made phone calls to the four
others who live interstate or too far away to come in at that moment. 
I can see my mother now.  Her face was fuller than I remembered, her
skin almost golden.  She always had olive
skin, a throw back to some Spanish ancestry she liked to imagine.  Olive skin and her grey hair combed around
her face pageboy style.  She wore a white
hospital gown that did not show its strings or tags and looked as innocent as a
christening gown and the people at Bethlehem had tied a flower and a sprig of
leaves in a tidy bunch on the pillow near to her head. 
The flower at first glance looked
almost artificial in its perfection, petals of dark pink in tight packed layers
around a darker centre.  A peony rose
tied to acanthus-shaped leaves. 
This peony would not have been my
mother’s chosen flower I suspect but the staff had picked it from the hospital
garden as a tribute to our now dead mother.
They had laid our mother out on her
back with her arms visible over the pastel quilt on top of her bed.  It could have been an ordinary bed, not a
hospital bed, white wood panelled bed ends and moulded frames. 
The nurse talked of putting on the
air-conditioning after we had been there for a couple of hours for fear of the
body’s slow decomposition. 
I did not realise this.  I should have known this, but my sister
explained and one brother added information about the way all the fluids in the
body begin to drain under the pull of gravity and slowly leak out. 
Even alive, my mother’s body has been
leaking for several weeks now, on its way back to the earth.