I haven't posted in a while. I have been writing, but nothing I've wanted to share on the blog. I wrote this a few weeks ago. I hadn't planned on publishing it - it felt too raw. But I have had several emails from strangers thanking me for writing about grief. These strangers say that they appreciate me sharing so much and tell me that my writing has helped them. I feel like a bit of a fraud; I feel like my real posts on grief are all in my 'Unpublished' folder on my computer. All of the posts that really tap into my emotions I leave off of the Internet. At least until the emotions are well processed (i.e.: years later). One of these emails I received really touched me. So I am publishing this post as a way of showing my gratitude, but also as a way of being slightly more genuine in my writings on grief.
I'm losing Mum
I had my last conversation with my mum and didn’t know it. I can’t even remember it. I remember one of the last conversations – proper conversations before she was slipping in and out – she asked me what I was thinking about doing after my PhD. What she was actually asking was what I am going to do with my life after she dies.
“I’m thinking a lot about moving overseas”
“I thought you might do that”.
I don’t know why she thought that – I’ve never had any desire to live abroad. Perhaps she realised that there’s nothing here for me. Perhaps she thought that the emptiness that comes from having no family would be felt less if I was abroad.
Maybe that’s just what I think.
Mum’s had cancer for a couple of years. She had a fall a couple of months ago; she had to go into hospital. I changed her sheets so they were fresh when she’d come home. I didn’t know she wasn’t coming home.
I washed away her smell.
When she dies and I want to lie in her bed and in her sheets and smell all that is left of her I won’t be able to because I washed it away.
I just thought she would want fresh sheets.
Mum’s still alive. Well, her body is. But Mum is gone. Mostly. She has moments where I can see her. The attitude she only ever shows with me – the attitude that I love but that others would mistake as rude – that attitude still comes through at times. She can’t really speak, but I can see flickers of it in her facial expressions and in her mannerisms. I know her well. I can sense her mood before she looks at me. Her moods aren’t always pleasant. I love them anyway.
When my brother was alive, his manic pacing, and his inability to do anything quietly, his episodes through the night – I hated these things. When my brother died, I pined for the pacing, the silence was deafening, and my nights were empty. I couldn’t sleep because the house was so quiet.
I also couldn’t sleep because I didn’t feel safe anymore. I’d never been conscious that just having Jared was integral to my fiercelessness; it was only in his death – when I became timid, cautious, frightened of harm – that I realised that I had lost more than my brother. That’s the way with life; we learn about it through death.
Unlike Jared, I’ve always been independent. I’m like our mum. I don’t want to be as independent as her; her refusal to accept help is a fear of vulnerability – it’s a scar. I used to be like that, it’s not a rewarding existence.
Mum will die soon. It’s taken so long yet now, suddenly it seems, it is happening so quickly. Last week she could walk, now she cannot hold a cup. Lifting her to the bathroom used to be a chore for me; now I just miss when she was well enough to be lifted anywhere. I wish I was able to hold her in my arms. She liked that I was strong – I made her feel safe. I liked that. When my mum was eventually forced into vulnerability, I was able to make her feel secure the way my brother had done for me.
Mum gets very confused and this makes her scared. She likes it when I am there. It doesn’t make her any less confused but she knows that I will keep her safe. That means so much to me.
I’m sitting next to Mum now. It’s midnight on Sunday. I have been working by her bedside. She’s slept most of the day. I like being here. I like to feed her. She doesn’t really eat anymore, but she eats when I feed her. I like that. At times, she rouses from her sleep startled. She’s dreaming about my brother.
A few weeks ago Mum confided in me that she keeps dreaming about Jared. In the dreams he’s still alive and the dreams feel so real. She told me, through tears, that when she wakes up she needs to remember that he’s not alive.
Every morning she wakes up and has to remember that her son is dead. Heartbreaking is such an inadequate description.
I am going to leave soon, I hate leaving. The nurses will wish me goodnight and tell me to drive safely. When I walk out the door I will burst into tears with a deep sense of fear that she might die while I am gone. This happens every day. I have a box of tissues in my car ready for me.
It is winter time and the nights are cold. There will be frost on my windscreen and when I drive away and I turn through the roundabouts my car will make a strange noise. It makes it every night; I think it must be the cold.
I will drive through the roundabouts full of anxiety. I worry that she might wake up scared, looking for my brother and I won’t be there to make her feel safe. I hate that she might wake up scared and that I am not there. I am so scared that she will die scared.
We’re both scared.
I will drive home and I will cry and I will wail. By the time I get to my door the neck of my sweater will be soaked from tears and I will be gasping. Once I get in the door I will slide down against the wall and hope.
I don’t know what I hope for.
I had to fill out a form the other day. It asked for a Next of Kin. I don’t have a Next of Kin. I put down my thesis supervisor. I always put him down, even before Mum got sick. A while back I got sick on campus and had to go to Emergency Department; I told them not to call Mum. Mum’s not any good in an emergency, especially not after Jared. I would only tell Mum something was wrong when I could tell her that I’d be okay. When I was in Emergency we weren’t yet sure if I was going to be okay.
But now I can’t put Mum down even if I wanted to. That day in emergency, when I filled out that form I knew that if Chris wasn’t able to answer his phone, they could, if they had to, call my mum. Mums always answer the phone. I am her child and as long as she is alive she has an instinctive need to know that I am okay. But soon there will be no one who needs to know that I am okay. There will be people who care that I am okay, but no one who needs to know that I am.
They can’t call my mum anymore. Mum’s not really here anymore.
Maybe that’s why I want to move away.
I want, desperately, for my mum’s suffering to end. I don’t want her to wake up having to go through the grief of losing Jared anymore. I don’t want her to have to live endless days unable to muster the strength to hold a cup. I know there’s no going back; that she can’t get better. I know what’s coming.
But what I don’t know is how I am going to live with the missing.
Every time I do not know the answer to a basic question I am going to miss Mum’s voice, exasperated, “What is it, exactly, that you have learnt in all of this time at university?” I tell her that I can’t be expected to know answers to cultural questions – things about history or geography – I was raised in the Western suburbs! She looks at me unforgivingly. That look is reminding me that so was she; that she had to leave school at 15; she never had a university education. Mum never had the privileges I did but she still knows far more than I ever will. The look on her face is telling me to take responsibility for my own ignorance and to read a book (or an atlas). I know she is right.
I don’t know how it’s going to feel to not see that look again.
I also don’t know how it’s going to feel when I submit my PhD and I don’t have her to call. I tell myself it’s not such a big deal – celebrations aren’t really me. I wouldn’t have done a graduation ceremony even if she were alive and well. But I would have called her; she would have been proud and I would have been happy. I handed in my Honours thesis the week after my brother died. I wonder if handing in my PhD will feel like that.
At least then I still had her.
I do not know is how it is going to feel the next time I am in hospital and have to tell them that I don’t have a mum to phone. The doctors and nurses already pity me enough. That day when I was in emergency the nurses stayed by my bedside. The doctors looked at me with sad eyes. I thought being there by alone showed my independent toughness; they thought it sad that my independence prevented my vulnerability.
The carers in Mum’s nursing home look at me with the same sad eyes. They let me stay here. I don’t know if I am meant to leave by a certain time, I intentionally never asked if there was visiting hours. No one else has visitors stay all night. But as long as I am here before the doors lock they don’t care when, or if, I leave. They are kind. They ask me if I am her granddaughter; they think I am studying for high school exams. Maybe that’s why they look at me so sadly, they think I am still a child.
I still am a child, her child – at least for tonight.