Missing My Mother

My Dearest Darling.

We recently discussed my parents. When we did I mentioned how I missed my mother. I have recounted her demise to you over the phone but a little over two months after she died I embarked on a solo trip around Australia which included the first Mother’s Day I had not been with her. I have another, now inactive blog, which chronicled that trip. Below is the only post I wrote that wasn’t published. This is the first time I have read it in eighteen months and the emotion is still quite raw. It does however best describe how I miss my mother.

It’s quite a sad day for me today, my first Mother’s Day without mum. In late January of 2012, I spent 4 days at a mountain lodge near the Barrington Tops in rural New South Wales, Australia. I drank too much wine and whisky and just vegged out. On the day of my return I found that my 89 year old mother had suffered a fall and needed to be hospitalised. I put her in the local hospital on Friday 27th January 2012 and she died in the early hours of Wednesday 8th February 2012, 4 days short of her 90th birthday. I went from organising her birthday party to organising her funeral.

Mum suffered from dementia, which a hideous disease that wastes the brain. In the end she could do very little for herself and even lost the ability to speak. It was abundantly clear that she wasn’t well when I returned from my break. Watching your own mother waste away in a sterile hospital has nothing to commend it. She fought the process the whole way. She kicked and abused the ambulance officers, the nurses, the doctors and the other staff. I was the worst son in the world for subjecting her to all of this. I think she said to me in a moment of lucidity that she hoped I had daughters, implying that sons were no good at all. It quickly became evident that there were no meaningful treatment options and that all we could do was make her comfortable and manage the pain.

“Managing the Pain” became the new mantra. When it comes to someone’s death the staff at the hospital can’t come out and say it, but in effect it is their code for euthanasia. In the circumstances and when carried out ethically it is something that I fully support. Now my mother was against euthanasia, we had discussed it at length on a number of occasions. In particular we discussed it in relation to my dad (who had died 8 years earlier). So I knew she wanted to fight. But, when there were no meaningful treatment options available “managing the pain” became the only option. When presented with “suffer and die slowly with pain” or “suffer and die a little faster but with managed pain” it really ceases to be a choice. No one actually tells you that “managing the pain” is essentially medicating someone to death, you have to figure that out for yourself. And even when you have it figured it is still up to the individual hospital staff to participate in this secret society. Some would not partake at all. One quite literally told me that they would “let nature take it’s course.” Others could be described as being more proactive.

My mother started refusing all food and drink, which was hideous to watch. I learnt at this time that tube feeding someone was not really an option. Apparently it stops the body from producing the endorphins it needs to manage its own pain and causes agony to the patient. There was however one nurse (who had worked in a dementia facility in Adelaide) she was excellent. She actually managed to get mum to eat small amounts of food (a teaspoon of puréed fruit is what I mean by small). However it was a futile effort, my mother had decided to check out. About four days before she died she got significantly worse. She was moved into a private room at the end of a ward. They had done the same thing with dad. He was moved into the “dying room” and it was in mum’s dying room that I now ate, showered and slept. Mum became totally vegetative only moving when the nurses turned her as part of their schedule. All the while (depending on the vagaries of the staff) we continued to “manage the pain.”

The last hours of her life were spent with her gasping for breath. She emitted this most hideous rasp; it is one of the most sickening sounds I have ever heard. It was once described to me as a “death rattle” but until I had heard myself I didn’t truly understand what was meant.  In this last hour the senior nursing staff were of the “nature takes it course” school of thought. But after 40 minutes of mum’s sickening breathing I had to do something, I buzzed for help and blessedly there had been a change in shift (you can lose track of time when you move into hospital.) The new nursing staff came in and saw (and heard) my mother’s condition. She was clearly in great distress and a lot of pain. The more senior of the two looked me in the eye and said she could “manage the pain.” She said it in a way that conveyed a far greater meaning than just the words. Five minutes later, as I was stroking my mother’s hair, holding her hand and telling her that I loved her, she died. The pain had been managed and I had become an orphan. I miss my mother terribly but there is no way I would have her back in anything like the condition she was in. It was her time. I cannot thank the staff at the hospital enough for their compassion and understanding.

Happy Mother’s Day Mum.

So there you have it my Darling. I did it all alone and made the most hideous yet most compassionate decision of my life.

You Will Always Be My Darling

From Sir With Love

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My Dear Compassionate Sir,

This makes my heart ache for you. I know how much you loved your mother, and I know how much your mother adored you. I am so sorry you went through this alone. I am sorry I wasn’t there for you. I would have stood by your side and helped. You would not have carried that burden alone.

I loved your mother too. I truly did. She was your mother, and I thank her for you. I am happy to say I knew her.

I don’t equate pain management as euthanasia especially when that person is having their last moments on Earth. I think the medication just took away her pain and allowed her to pass into the next life peacefully. You were and are a superior son.

I love you.

Darling

©2013 Darling and Sir

The Elder Sirs

My Dear Dashing Sir,

One memory touches my heart like no other. I find the topic to be unsettling on the one hand and appreciative on the other. I am talking about your parents. They were a paradox to me, because with you being so young your parents were quite advanced in age. They were actually older than my grandparents. You explained that they had you rather late in life, and I knew you were an only child.

We were headed to Newcastle to meet your parents, and boy were you nervous. I had never seen you so nervous.  It was very endearing. I believe I even teased you about it a few times, and you let me! Did I mention how nervous you were?!  We were staying nearby in The Hunter. Your father was in the hospital preparatory for surgery, and we headed over to see him and your mother.

The first thing that I noticed was how much your parents loved you. I could see it radiate from them when either of them looked at you. They adored you. The sun rose and set with you in their eyes, and their faces shown with unconditional parental love. I understood that, because it was how I felt when I looked at you too. I’m sure they saw it reflected on my face. I really couldn’t hide it, nor did I try to.

My first impression of your mother was that she was quite frail, but I equated that to the strain she was under worrying about your father. She was quiet but watchful; consequently, she was a true lady. I knew I was under the intense scrutiny I call the “mother’s microscope,” and I can’t blame her. You were her baby boy, and I was a strange American woman. I was more than happy to be analyzed. We had dinner later on that night with your mother and her friend. I distinctly recall whispering to you that I was worried about your mom. I could see her stress. You promptly went to her and encouraged her to get some rest. Your concern for her was tender, and it touched me deeply.

What to say about your father? He was such a rascally gem (like father like son?).  I can’t even tell you how long I sat next to him holding his hand while he entertained me with story after story. He would laugh and pat and squeeze my hand. I wasn’t letting go no matter how numb my hand went. His face was so animated, and I was an enthusiastic, willing audience. You wandered in and out of the room checking on us as you flitted about making sure everything was in order. You were the dutiful son.

I don’t remember what he and I were discussing, but I said the word “withdrawal.”  (I pronounced it with-drawl.) He looked up at you confused at what I just uttered. You understood instantly and said, “With-dra-wal, Father.” He nodded and looked relieved. He was afraid of offending me. He was a dear. I apologized to him for talking funny. He just laughed and probably made some wise crack.

I vividly recall him gazing intently at me, and I stared back – neither of us saying a word for a few moments. I didn’t feel uncomfortable or embarrassed in the slightest. He was still gripping my hand tightly. After some time, he looked over at you and said, “She’s beautiful son. Don’t let this one go.”  I blushed. You reassured him that you wouldn’t.  My heart was so full at this point.

Of course we needed some comic relief by this time, and your father gave us that as well. He went to get up and promptly flashed me when he threw the bedcovers back. You were there in an instant and tucked him back into bed. I’m sure I was a bit mortified, but we laughed about it later. You made some comment about me being privy to the family jewels.

I miss something I never had. How is that even possible?  I miss something I truly thought would happen at that time – a relationship with your parents. I get so angry when I hear you tell me how callous your ex was with your parents. I am not a violent person, but I’d love to pull her hair – hard. Hell, I’d love to snatch her bald. There was no reason to be a grade-A bitch towards them. They were the nicest people. I thoroughly enjoyed them. I feel so cheated out of getting to know them better. I never got the chance to personally tell them how I felt about their son, and to tell them that I loved you. That hurts my heart. I mentioned them briefly in my Epistle letter. I remember wondering specifically about your father and replaying over and over in my mind my short time with him. That memory always made me happy.  I am going to add what I said before in Epistle.

I wondered after your parents for the longest time. It was torture not knowing when your father passed. I assumed it was not long after I met him only to find out he lived another few years! He was a delight to me. Not knowing hurt. You took that from me. Then to find out that the woman of your black heart couldn’t be bothered with him and would callously wish he would die. Damn her. I will never forget him telling you how beautiful he thought I was and to never let me go. My laughter is quite hollow I assure you. I am also so incredibly saddened to hear that your mother has recently passed. Damn you.
 

At the end of the day, I am happy I got the chance to meet both of them. I would have rather met them and go through all the pain again than miss out on that opportunity. They were your parents. They gave the world you – my Sir. You are a perfect legacy of two great people, and the world is a better place for having known them.

So affectionately yours,

Darling

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My Dearest Darling

Yes my parents were quite elderly. My mother was older than you are now when she had me. My father was only several years younger than your father is now when I was conceived. Growing up it was not an issue until I hit 5th grade. That’s when I began to notice their age. I remember a message filtered through the school that my grandfather was here to pick me up. What an entirely incongruous statement that was. Three of my grand parents had died before I was born and my maternal grand mother passed only eighteen months later. I never really knew any of my grandparents. Now Dad would have been close to 70 when he took me from school that day. I suddenly realised that they were old.

You are right though. I know my parents loved me very much, as I did them. I could not have asked for nicer people to have filled that role. No doubt I spoilt their retirement plans, though they never mentioned it. My mother was quite a bit younger than my father but even in this age of modern medical miracles it would be quite unusual for a woman of her advancing years to carry a child to term. In her case I was her first and last.

So I was nervous? I really don’t remember. I have no doubt you are right. I didn’t even put a fight when you mocked me about it. I must have been on edge. I can’t believe you took advantage of me in a weak moment. I really thought better of you (smiles).

My mother would have watched you like a hawk, of that I have no doubt and the friend she was with was a cagey one. She would have not been afraid to ask the difficult questions or put me on the spot. If I was nervous, it was with good reason. Up until you I had been a serial monogamist. But you knew then as you know now, things were different. We were going to marry. We had your two children to consider. There were many decisions yet to be made. While I wanted to shout it from the rooftops that I loved you like no other, however there were still many questions that we did not yet have answers for.

She knew you were important to me of that I am certain. I mean your photo made it into the hallowed gallery. I would cringe each time I visited my parent’s home. Like many loving household you would see pictures of family. Well, I being an only child, walking into my parents home was like walking into a shrine to my life. To say my mother was proud would be an understatement. Everything from winning academic trophies to meeting important notables to playing prestigious concert halls was all neatly catalogued on the walls, and you my Darling had a place in that shrine.

My father was quite the rogue. He had lived a colourful life. During the Depression he stowed away on a ship to try and find work in New Zealand. During WWII he had enlisted as a private, made corporal then sergeant, and he’d been busted back to private on a number of occasions before finally being dishonourably discharged for assaulting an officer. Like his son, he always had a healthy disrespect for authority. He could spin a good yarn and cut quite the dashing figure in his youth. I like to think I have adopted his more endearing habits while discarding his more disreputable ones. I have no doubt that he took a shine to you. He always had an eye for the ladies. He lived another five years after your departure.

One of the funniest things I remember after that time was a visit I paid to him in the last year of his life. I was there with my then wife and he inquired after you. Now he couldn’t remember your name but I remember him saying something along the lines of  – “Whatever happened to that American lass? I’m surprised you let that one slip through your fingers. What was her name again? Was it Helen?” Well we both know that is not your name. I corrected him on that fact. All the while my then wife sat seething to my right. I had to turn to my left to hide my considerable mirth at my Father’s quite tactless yet hysterically funny comments. I think it may have been the last time she ever saw him alive. Their relationship was frosty at best and I think his comments tipped her over the edge.

I could go in to quite a bit of depth about my ex wife’s perceived short comings. They would pale under the harsh glare when compared to my own inexcusable behaviour. Suffice it to say my parents were a burden to her. My father, who literally got on with everyone, never took to her and she loathed that he lived longer than her own father (who made his own dramatic exit from this world). 

My mother never really understood where you had gone and why she (my ex) had replaced you (let’s be honest here I never told mum). My ex hated mum’s intrusion into our lives. My ex had trouble understanding that, because I was an only child, all the decisions were made by me. I had no brothers and sisters to help share the load; all help could only be provided by me. With my mother’s failing health (and she being an only child herself), there was no family on her side that could be enlisted to help as well.

The biggest fight we ever had in our marriage was when I paid for her father’s funeral! For the life of me I could not understand her issue. It took quite the argument for me to establish that her real issue was not so much that I had paid for her father’s funeral, but that it set a precedent for me to pay for my own father’s funeral. I was astounded by her line of thinking. With an elderly mother of limited means, and me being the only child, who else would have paid? Would I only be allowed to organise a pauper’s funeral on his death? It was the final straw in our already rocky marriage. It teetered on for several more years but we were really only postponing the inevitable.

I am happy you met them my Darling. I know you didn’t spend much time with them, and that I robbed you of the chance to spend more. That you remember them so warmly makes me smile.

 

You Will Always Be My Darling

From Sir With Love

©2013 Darling and Sir