Please join us behind the curtain.

Fortunately the topic of ‘death and dying’ is not as secret as it has been, in fact when I mentioned to a member of my family that we were planning to start a blog on the subject, he declared that everyone is talking about death these days, how about talking about life? 

I admit that this is a fair enough argument. On a recent trip to visit Susanne, and after many conversations accompanied by many pots of tea, we both found that we still had a lot more to say, and decided that a blog is a good way to do it. People can read our posts or not, and sometimes we might even write about life. 

While in Adelaide, Susanne and I walked this labyrinth in the grounds of The Waite Historic Precinct. “The lines of the labyrinth are formed with 921 timber rounds mostly recycled from Arboretum trees and the paths are sawdust. The whole installation is intended to be ephemeral or renewable and sit softly on the landscape.”

This photo came with the theme I chose for our blog and I’m not sure how to delete it. In an attempt to make it work for us, let’s just say the sight of the sun setting over the ocean is often cited as being an inspiration for pondering questions of mortality.

Some secrets need to be told

When my husband, Peter, left his body on April the 5th, I decided not to tell my mother. She is ninety years old. On March the sixteenth, my siblings and I celebrated her 90th birthday while Peter was in the Caritas Christi Hospice in Kew, Victoria. Our eldest son, Louis, stayed overnight to keep Peter company. This was only three weeks before Peter left us. Mum had become accustomed to me letting her know that Peter was in hospital. I wasn’t sure how long I could keep it up.

Rod, Jann, me, mum and hugo. Peter was meant to join us as well. After the fall that resulted in him being admitted to hospital, it was no longer possible for him to be there.

I liked having a world in which Peter was still alive. Besides, I knew my mother would be very upset as she was very fond of Peter, and she would also be worried about me. Our weekly outings were a highlight of her week. She has been living in a nursing home near us since 2006, and, while she was no longer able enough to accompany my sister, Jann, and I on longer trips, she did enjoy lunch and op-shopping each week.

Jann took this photo of mum and me on a recent visit to a cafe down the road from her nursing home. I appreciated being able to laugh and joke without the pall of Peter’s death dominating our time together.

I managed to keep up the impression that Peter was still with us. When she would ask after him, I would show her photos of Peter and I together, as proof that he was okay.

Peter took this photo of us around the same time last year, on one of our early morning walks down to the barn. Sometimes I wish I could ‘pretend’ to everyone that Peter was still with us.

Mum was doing well until, in the third week of September she started vomiting uncontrollably. The staff were worried about her so they called an ambulance which transported her to the Northern Hospital in Epping. She underwent a four hour operation, and, just over four weeks later, and one return trip to hospital, she is not dealing with the added assistance she requires and does not understand why things have changed.

When Susanne was recently in Melbourne, she joined me on one of my visits to Anzac Lodge. Mum was very pleased to see Susanne, even though she couldn’t remember how Susanne and I knew each other. Mum appreciated Susanne’s kind face and friendly way of relating to her. She asked me to take this photo of her with Susanne.

Yesterday I was showing mum a photo of our second son, Yoshi, when she asked, who are Yoshi’s parents? I responded, Peter and I. She looked me in the eye and said, did Peter die? This was the second time she has asked me since her operation. I couldn’t keep up the facade. I replied, yes he did. She said, it’s sad, isn’t it. I replied, yes it is. She asked me to show her some photos of him, so she could remember him. Then closed her eyes as if going to sleep.

Soon after she opened her eyes again. This time she asked, what are you going to do, you’re always looking after people. I couldn’t reply, as the tears uncontrollably welled up in my eyes. I didn’t stop crying until long after I had made a rather hasty departure. The biggest surprise was that she seemed to switch from her world of dementia and childlike demeanor to being my mum again. I have been concerned about her for so long, with the parent/child relationship having switched some time ago. I didn’t expect to have her back as my mother, and especially in relation to having lost my beloved partner.

I’ll be heading back soon to tempt her with some tasty morsels, in our ongoing effort to try to encourage her to eat. I’m wondering if she will remember our conversation from yesterday.

We try to recreate pleasant dining situations, with familiar food and attractive settings. She usually enjoys fish and chips however this time she ate a mouthful of fish and a couple of chips. At least the setting up and expectation of the meal brought her some pleasure.

Starting from a young age, I have kept many secrets from my mother. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. This is one secret I didn’t think I would ever share with her. It unexpectedly feels like a weight has lifted from my shoulders. I just hope it doesn’t weigh too heavily on hers.