Updated: Jan 10
The losing of a parent in your fifties is the best anyone can hope for. And when there is a chance to say goodbye, put the past to rest, then the gods have handed you gold on a plate.
When my mother died I was fifty-three, alone, thousands of miles away in a caravan. I howled like a baby.
I never made the funeral, never got to go through her things, never got to hold her hand as she slipped away. She was my mother, but at times I felt like a distant relative.
Her death ripped my family to shreds and all I could do was phone, message.
I live in Scotland and my family in Australia, once I knew my mother was dying I went back. I spent four weeks watching grief explode in anger, arguments, resentments, and silence as the gremlins of our family took hold.
It was like the lancing of a boil that wouldn’t heal.
Grief brings depression, silence, blame, and shouting. My mother was a shouter, a fighter, and a blamer, and she was angry that my father was outliving her.
At least that is how I saw it.
I wanted peace, but I quickly realized everyone has their own way of dealing with cancer, especially siblings. My father was the sort to hold things in, head to his shed but as he was an invalid with the onset of dementia, his emotions were all over the place, contained behind a blank face and irrational outbursts of rage.
I assumed he was terrified, devastated at the loss of the woman he loved. I grew up listening to my parent’s love story, and over the years of phone calls and visits, it never seemed to change. They still held hands.
I suspect my siblings saw it differently, and they unlike me had shared their lives with mum and dad. They called dad selfish, especially when he, staggering on his one leg balled at my mother, almost blowing her frail body off her feet.
I had four weeks, everything was heightened, my time with my mother, consoling my father, him consoling me, holding me, solid as a tree trunk.
I remember washing my mother’s back, and her loving it, massaging her feet, and her ignoring, wanting my sister.
My mother had always been a mixed bag, and now with cancer, it was even more so, she went from hard to soft in a matter of minutes. She wanted to ‘go out’ her way, and thanks to my sister she did. Swallowing jealousy is not easy but as I returned to Scotland I did just that, while my sister and mother got on with the business of dying mum’s way.
Everyone retreated to their corners, my brother into silence, my father confused and hurt, while my sister and mum almost melted together. I retreated into my new job.
I dreaded Christmas, my mother had weeks, my husband of just a few months had left for Bangladesh his parents were also dying, and here was I staring at the frost swearing at my mobile unable to connect, console him or my mother.
Then it hit me, one final gesture for mum —--Christmas, it was staring me in the face.
My mum is the sort of person who holds back and her holding back taught me to jump, make mistakes, and when she said “there’s no need to come” ----- like she wasn’t dying. I jumped.
As I sat there on Christmas day, jet-lagged, my way too expansive Champaign drunk by everyone else, by a sister who couldn’t be arsed with me, an uncle so drunk he knocked over the roast I watched my mother happy in her red dress.
Despite it flapping about her skeleton body like a tent she looked beautiful, drinking in every moment of what she loved. Her family around her.
She couldn’t eat let alone drink, but she was the center, sparkling, almost dancing.
My sister in her anger had moved mountains, gave mum all she wanted, my brother and his family supported her with humor and kindness, while dad watched on the sidelines, impotent to help.
It was four weeks of color, I laughed with my parents, told them stories, walked in the sun with my brother and his family, cried, and kept a distance from my sister, swithering between jealousy and admiration.
On our last day together we stopped for lunch at a restaurant where mum, my sister, and I always ate when I visited. I remember leaving my wine thinking I wanted to remember everything. As my sister drove us to the airport mum held my hand. I have a history of feeling unimportant, that what I feel or remember is not real, but when she held my hand, I felt I mattered.
God, it was awful saying goodbye and as I headed into the airport my heartbroken, my sister followed, pulled me back for one last hug.
Mum’s tiny bird-like hands held my face. She looked into my eyes and oh my god, I saw into her soul —pure mother. She dug right into the pit of my stomach, and I howled from my bowels.
If I am honest I think she didn’t want me to come because she dreaded this moment with her over-the-top emotional daughter but, when it came she was amazing, her loving hands consoled my tears, we melted together.
The world carried on but for a moment mum and I stopped, even my poor crying sister was invisible just me and my mother — a moment with no words.
Death is like sex it is never really what you expect and nothing like the movies, it’s messy, unspoken, and yet in it all its messiness there are moments like outside an airport where people are hailing taxis.
My brother and sister were there as she went into a hospice, faded into a shell, drifted into a comma. Their good-bye was different, slow like the defrosting of a joint. and if they were pissed of with me, I don’t blame them.
A few years later I went into a spree of novel writing, filling my stories with farcical comedy, and often there was a death scene. Life is never the same when death touches you. In my latest, The Downfall of Manifest The Great, Aggie having lived life with a great amount of gusto passes on leaving behind a poem.
I’m not sure how my mum would take such a poem but I like to think that there is a little bit of her there, that as she lay in the hospice surrounded by her family there was a part of her dying with gusto in her red dress naturally.
The Ramblings Of A Dying Woman
I love my body, from the deliciously farting bowels to the breast that gave me pleasure.
It has devoured food so delicious I drool, to bed-diving so spectacular my pelvis lubricates at the thought and a heart that loved so much that it ached.
My body has been there for me through thick and thin. Crying when I needed to, dancing until it dropped, and laughing with gusto, turning a bleak day into a comedy sketch.
Even frail and old, wheeled about in a chair, my body has not let me down. With gums that fill with juices at the mere smell of sweet hemp, to full thick hair that delights in the stroking of my lover.
I love my body and those I shared it with.
I give in to its passing with gratitude and thank the gods of the galaxies for designing such a miraculous and efficient machine to live in and another to share it with.
The Ramblings Of A Dying Woman can be found in my latest Sci-Fi comedy -------The Downfall Of Manifesto The Great.
Although my blog is very emotional the novel is a parody. It's funny how writing comedy can often trigger other memories and emotions.