The words ‘after the rain’ typically means that once an event is over there is a sense or feeling of new, fresh and clean. However, I am still feeling awash. How much rain is it going to take?
In the days and month’s leading up to my mother’s death, it could have rained every single day and I wouldn’t have cared. All that mattered is that I spent as much time as possible with her because I knew I would miss her so much when she was gone. After all, she is the person I’ve known the longest, who never left me and was always there for love and support.
As a forty-something-year-old woman, without a partner or a family of my own, doubled with being the youngest sibling and the only girl, I knew these next few weeks or months were going to be rough.
I love the way mum stood up for me. I recall sitting talking with her about my oldest brother (Bro 1) telling me how much easier this situation is for me because I was single and could take leave from my job. Meaning everything I do only affects me. I gave mum all the reasons why this is hard for me being that single, independent woman. Mum’s response was that he cannot see it any other way than his own which reminded me of the saying “if you were given someone else’s problems you’d probably want yours back”.
For me, this was a lonely and exhausting experience. Not only did I consistently return by car on the four hour journey on my own, I was headed to my quiet and lonely apartment in the city. Waiting there for me was the usual daily tasks of cooking, cleaning, laundry and grocery shopping before the next four days at work. Not to mention that lonely four hour journey back down the road.
I cried a lot in the car. My childhood best friend would call me and ask how many kilometres did I cry this time. It made me laugh that we were judging the time by distance. It’s was an unusual perspective because I felt like I knew every inch of that road. My best friend from the city showed up one afternoon at my apartment with groceries and proceeded to change the sheets on my bed. All my other friends would call, send cards with money or vouchers, give me their homes, their hearts and their precious time when I needed comfort. Such simple things made the biggest difference. I will not forget any of this and I thank each and every one of you for your support.
My workplace was very considerate. I had already taken all my paid leave and had to re-negotiate my contract. I adjusted to working only four days a week so I could spend the entire weekend at home with mum and dad. My brothers would switch it up during the week. I appreciated my workplace for allowing me to do this. Working from home was not an option for me at the time. My pay was adjusted accordingly and I had the same bills coming in, if not more with all the extra petrol costs and eating on the run most days.
It’s interesting watching how others go through stressful situations. Understandably, under the circumstances, my father was so exhausted and filled with grief. All his emotions were kept balled up and he would just get busy. Busy doing the jobs around the house that haven’t been done in years. Other things got left by the wayside. Afterwards, my father told me that the jobs that were most difficult were the ones that filled his mind with memories of mum. Truth be known, I am more like my father than I would like to admit.
Bro 1 cooked us copious amounts of good healthy food. Doing the switch would mean there was a nice home cooked meal in the fridge. I am certain that this was his way of helping and coping which I am very thankful for.
Bro 2 and his beautiful partner were on speed-dial. They were my emotional support and soundboard. They are easy-going, patient and kind. They are the type of people you can really open up to and pour your heart out. Listeners. Easy to be around. I know I keep saying easy and I know that this was not easy for them either, however the situation was easier to deal with when they were around.
Our mother is still the strongest lady I know and have known. She never gave up. She never felt sorry for herself. Bro 2 and I would talk about how if this happened to us we would more likely pout and sit on our pity pots. We both admire her strength and courage everyday.
After all these years it was time we fussed over mum. At first she was hesitant and persistent because she could do things on her own. As time went on, when she physically couldn’t help herself anymore, she let us. It was in these days I really felt like I was giving back for all her years of effort. I would happily sit in the chair next to her and chat. Or we would both end up falling asleep from exhaustion. I would do anything she asked. Get more water, take out the rubbish, get the mail, bring in the laundry, pay the bills online. Anything. Everything. One time she asked me to go feed the birds. We have a bird feeder to entice the wild birds to come. The King Parrots, Elvis and Priscilla, were her favourite. I had to tell her I would in a minute after rolling my eyes. I was so tired. I was laying across the couch behind her but she couldn’t see me. If she could, she would have waited a little while longer.
Every night when mum went to bed, Bro 2 and I would go, sit and chat with her for five or ten minutes. It was a “just in case” we didn’t get to see her tomorrow and so she didn’t feel alone. The darkness of night was the hardest time because it always felt like the ending. I don’t know why. We would make sure she was as comfortable as she could be and talk about random things. Like the raccoon she had as a pet as child. I liked that story. We also made sure that she knew we loved her and would miss her very much. After all those goodnights and goodbyes she never did pass in her sleep.
I remember the night clearly when I heard mum cry. Dad was switching on lights and fussing around. It was 3am. I got up and went to the closed bedroom door and asked if I could help. This was the moment mum’s body had given up and she could no longer walk. For me, this was most definitely the truest sign of the beginning of the end. Dad put her in the wheelchair and left to call the ambulance. I pushed her into the living room and we looked at each other…. with that face… it’s really happening now. I felt myself frown and mum physically slumped down in her chair with sadness. Sadness for me because she could see how devastated I was. I asked her if she had a bag ready. I wrongly assumed she would because she was always so organised. Her response, “no, I am not expecting a child”. We laughed amongst the tears. It’s the last laugh I remember us having together.
As the ambulance arrived I told dad to go. I would follow in the car in a bit. Standing there in the empty house I knew it would never be the same here again. It already feels eerie. I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.
The next seven days is in hospice. People would come and go. Nurses swapping shifts, visitors, friends and family. For such a traumatic experience I am thankful for all those that made a difference. There are too many to mention everybody individually. I am especially grateful for mum’s MD visiting and being very apologetic. He had nothing but nice words about our mother and it was all the truth. This is the man that diagnosed mum after several attempts with others to find out what was wrong. His compassion and courtesy in the last few days did not go unrecognised and will never be forgotten.
The night before mum left us, we all said our evening goodbyes as we had done every night before. This one was different. We all said our real goodbyes. Bro 1 and my father finally found the courage to give the blessing that it would be okay if she wasn’t here tomorrow. Bro 2 and I had been doing this for a while now. Early the next morning I received a call from Bro 1 advising that I should hurry. It was an hour before the time I would typically arrive. Perhaps mum knew this in her catatonic state and was somehow saving me. Something inside of me didn’t want to hurry towards the inevitable, so I dawdled. I had never decided properly if I wanted to be there for mum’s last breath. I guess the answer came to me when the time was near. I made my decision by my action and it is okay.
Later that morning driving home I parked at the top of the driveway near the big Eucalyptus tree. I got out of the car and stood there. It was like I needed the time to prepare myself for things to be different. One of mum’s best friends stopped in to use the garbage bin. She saw me and instantly knew. There was nothing she could say to ease the grief so she walked over and hugged me exactly like my mum would have done. I broke down and melted into her arms and whispered through the tears, “I miss her so much. It’s never going to be the same ever again”.