Next in line

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. 

2 thoughts on “Next in line”

  1. I was not brought up to romanticise death. The last time I saw my mother medics had dragged her body off the couch where she’d passed away a few minutes earlier and were trying to revive her. We were ushered out of the room. The poet in me wanted to stay and take notes but he was chased out too. How hard they tried I don’t know but it wasn’t long before they heaved her into the living room—the room my parents called “the house”—lay her on the single bed my sister had moved downstairs since Mum refused to return to the double she’d shared for most of her life with her husband after his death and covered her with a blanket. I sat on the bed very briefly after they’d gone, rested my hand on her… her hip I’d guess… and said out loud, “Mum.” It felt disingenuous and even though there was no audience a part of me was still embarrassed. She couldn’t hear me. I never saw her again. My brother went to the funeral parlour—I forget if my sister joined him—but when he returned he said he’d regretted the decision. I was a little surprised he’d chosen to go but I didn’t try to dissuade him.

    It saddened my mother when I gave up on God. A part of me wished I could’ve kept up appearances until she’d died before cutting ties but I’d waited long enough. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t tried. It bothered me that I was a disappointment to her but at least the other two had returned to the fold so I guess her life wasn’t a complete loss. I didn’t speak at her funeral—it wasn’t an option; that’s not how they do it—but I wouldn’t have been well received. As it was only two people even spoke to me. It was a sorry do.

  2. This has brought on a bout of weeping for me, and I will have to think about how to articulate why. It must be the part about your mother’s religiosity and her refusal to know you. I have much the same thing going with my own mother, although the circumstances are entirely different. My mother is 84 and it’s difficult to talk to her at all since she is so crazy about Christianity and all things Trump/conservative-related. It is one of the single most difficult things I’ve ever had to contend with in my life, and your writing here resonates and points me toward some kind of discovery, so I’m grateful. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.