10 August, 2014.
The last time I saw my mother, she was two hours dead. Already going cold and the waxen look of her skin, bloodless, as it pooled below.
She would have hated this. This absence of control over her physical appearance. She could no longer control the smile on her face or the gleam in her blue eyes.
My mother had always prided herself on her skin and basked in compliments about her youthful appearance, even in her seventies, eighties and nineties. As if the absence of wrinkles from her cheeks, gave her something to hold onto in her otherwise crumbling life.
And this well after all the troubles of her children’s childhoods had ended and my mother entered the third phase of her life with a second husband and a happiness she forgot existed while married to my father.
The last time I saw my mother, I pleaded with her. ‘Wake up, Mum. You can’t stay asleep. Not now, not forever.’ I said to her and woke the small child within me, the one who could not bear to live in a world without my mother.
The adult in me was sanguine. I had long anticipated this moment. I planned to give her eulogy. I had told her as much. That I would like to speak at her funeral.
What did she make of that? When I told her, I wanted to speak at her funeral. Did she sense my wish to have the last word? To catch up with her at last. She who was always thirty-three years ahead of me. She who believed she had found the true meaning of life in her religion and all my irreligiosity and delving into the world of the human psyche was a waste of time.
I should have stuck with God. She never told me as much. Not beyond those times when I first embarked on my psychoanalytical journey, and she accused me of giving up one religion for another, did we discuss my preferred perspective.
For ever after, I chose not to inflict my ideas on my mother but marvelled at the way she could talk to me about her conversations with God, about her confidence in the power of prayer, as if I shared her beliefs. As if I knew what she was talking about because I shared those views.
Only I did not. She knew this, I suspect, but did not want to know.
The last time I saw my mother, I was alone with her, for a short time before my siblings began to arrive one after the other. And in those few moments alone with my mother I sensed something I had longed for all my childhood, to have my mother all to myself.
As if it was ever possible. As if we ever get our mothers all to ourselves. And yet the desire sticks with me given the fact I spent so many years caught up with having to share.
The last time I saw my mother in Bethlehem, not in Jerusalem but in Melbourne Australia in a hospice for the dying, I felt the relief that comes at that final full stop placed on a person’s life.
A sense it was over at last, and whatever was left of my mother existed only in memory or in the smell that lingered in her clothes as we loaded them from the cupboard in Park Glen where she had lived the final fifteen years of her life.
The lingering smell of my mother still in the air as we cleared out the small room, she occupied most days until she fell ill, when they shipped her off to hospital. A few stray tissues around her wastepaper basket by her chair.
In life, my mother’s hay fever gave her a chronically wet nose. I have developed this affliction in the past several years, much as she developed hay fever in her forties. A wet nose like a dog. And tissues on hand to stop the drips that take the place of tears.
My mother rarely cried in my presence even in those final years, except one time after she had heard of her sister’s death in Holland. A sister six years younger. A sister she had long criticised because this sister lost her connection to God.
This sister smoked cigarettes and drank Cinzano neat. This sister who my favourite aunt stayed behind in Holland when all her siblings deserted her parents for Australia or the Belgian Congo in search of future and a better life. My mother wept for this sister. And for her father and mother, as well as three of her brothers, also gone.
The last time I saw my mother, I knew my turn would be next.