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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.