‘We’re all children when we sleep,’ Miranda July

Even my father in his hospital tall bed in St Vincent’s in the city after a burst of pleurisy, a harbinger of his last days with emphysema, looked vulnerable. A far cry from the monster who towered over us when we were little.

He with his long feet, encased in black leather in my memory though there were times when they were naked, those long-elongated toes with tufts of red hair on each phalange, his wide hands, that were good for slaps, his stubbled chin, so awful to brush against when bedtime came. 

There he was in the white sheets of his hospital bed full of apologies on the visit I made one day after work. ‘I have been bad to you children,’ he said.

I wanted none if it. I wanted only that I could get through this visit without too much eye contact, too much meaning transiting between us, too much of anything. The strange reversal when children grow up and confront the vulnerability of their parents. 

As July reckons, ‘All of us are children when we sleep’.

And so it was I gazed at my mother when she was laid out on her final hospital bed, eyes closed, body still, soon to leave her body, her heart stopped in its regular rhythm.

One day in the last three weeks before she died she tried to usher me away. The slightest hand gesture, an expression on her face, a glint in those tired eyes that said, leave me alone. Then she closed them as if by shutting out light she could shut me out too. 

But I stayed. I held back, close to the door, out of her sight, and watched as the forced eye closure became involuntary and my mother slipped back into sleep. I watched her face, the wrinkles smoothed into the pillow under the weight of gravity. And imagined that she did not want any of us to see her like this. 

Like Susan Sontag railing against death but allowing those photographs so that people could see, not only the bright side of this life, her life, her amazing ability with words, her bright sharp eyes, but the drag on her body as cancer took over.

Since my mother died I have started to feel the cold in ways I never did before.  As if her presence kept my body a couple of degrees warmer and her absence becomes a cold chill through my bones.  

I knew it even before she went, that her death would leave me older by at least ten years, at least by the feel of it.  

Over time this sensation has settled but the loss remains, along with the cold. I shall never feel again the natural warmth of my childhood metabolism, the way even on cold days, underdressed in shorts and t-shirt, I did not notice the outside temperature, warmed by the way I felt inside, warmed by the presence of my mother.