This time 20 years ago I was sitting in an uncomfortable chair beside my mother's hospital bed. She hadn't spoken for a couple of days, was receiving fluid and pain relief only, but still she looked at me with eyes that demanded still more. Just after 11am I realised that she was going to hang on until I did something to release her, that yet again I was failing her. For thirty seven years I had been, not outrageously bad, not excitingly wicked, just a constant disappointment. Still she looked at me out of those hooded eyes, set in a death grey face.
I had tried a few times over the years to talk to her about all the issues that festered inside me: wanting answers to why she found me such a disappointment; why she never hugged or cuddled me as a child; why she told me I was tone deaf, clumsy, inadequate; why she never apologized even when she was clearly in the wrong; why she didn’t stand up for me when I was victimized by a vicious teacher – so many whys. The answer was the same each time I summoned the courage to ask: “I don’t want to talk about it. It’s done with.”
Yet her eyes now told me that she wanted something from me, and that even if she had the energy to talk, she could still make demands with those eyes.
So I said the words I thought she wanted me to say, words I desperately wished were true, “Thank you for everything you have done for me. Thank you for giving me life. Thank you for teaching me so much. I owe you so much. I love you.” Her only response was to close her eyes, take one last rattling breath and then she stopped.
Still I had more to do for her. When she told her doctor she did not want to be resuscitated, his response was that as a Christian he was morally obliged to do all he could to keep her alive, so no, he would not accede to her wish, he would attempt resuscitation. And so after my mother died, I continued to sit by her side for twenty minutes before going and telling a nurse – who then told me that said doctor was not on duty that day, and that all the rest of the staff believed in doing as the patient asked. Ah well.
Still it wasn’t over: my mother lived on in my mind and heart, criticizing and blaming and putting me down. A few years ago I finally went to a counselor again (my first attempt to go to one as a suicidal 17 year old is a whole nother story) and gradually started to come to terms with all my “mother stuff”. I reached a point where I wrote the following poem in August 2007. (Note: my mother was the daughter of an All Black and followed rugby all her life.)
The After Game Debrief
Right into extra time
It was all about you.
Lying grey and motionless
You still controlled the play.
You wouldn’t blow the whistle
Till I had shaken hands,
Acknowledged you as
Player of the Century,
And me – less than second five-eighths.
Even now, two decades on,
You still high tackle into my life,
Scrummaging in my head
At inopportune moments.
It’s time I told you;
The Game’s over.
The boot’s on my foot.
Your ball’s out of play.
My team’s playing live.
You team’s dead and gone.
It’s all over – even the shouting.
Well, it wasn’t quite true then, but HURRAH!! I think it finally is! I did Christmas my way this year and made it through without any bitterness or guilt or sadness. I had a wonderful day with my beautiful wonderful sons and their partners and their children – plus one partner’s brother. They are all people I love and want to know and spend time with for the rest of my life.
And now the time of my mother’s death – 11:15am, 20 years ago today - has passed without tears, or any bad feelings at all. I have lots of friends coming over for New Year’s Eve and there are no mixed feelings. I’m just looking forward to having a wonderful day in the sunshine, and a happy evening with people I care about.
After 57 years, I’m done and dusted with her!