I sat on a train travelling from Poole to visit my mother in a hospital in Brighton, I prepared myself spiritually and emotionally for this rite of passage, my mother's last days, and I wrote in my diary:
"talking to mummy is to be pulled into the constant shifting sands of anxiety, aggravation, self pity and self pain, confusion-nothing tangible nothing solid, no real mother, therefore, no real daughter.”
Leaning my head against the train window I recalled being inspired by Aldous Huxley’s book ‘Island’ and his description of families who prepare a loved one gently and beautifully for death with music, a loving ambience and celebration, rather than fear and sorrow.
Arriving at the hospital I went to the cloakroom to comb my hair and compose myself. I looked long into the mirror taking deep breaths to slow my rapid heart beat and asked for strength to get me through this experience.
“You can be calm and gentle,“ I told myself. “I will show love and tenderness on my face.”
Feeling prepared I walked into the ward and saw mummy looking very frail asleep in bed. “Has Mrs. Goodwin been given a sedative? I asked the nurse sitting at a desk nearby.
“No, just sleeping naturally,” the nurse said in a chirpy manner, “she hasn’t got long you know!”
Irritated and hoping mummy had not heard the tactless remark, I nodded showing that I understood.
As I stood by mummy’s bed I was overcome with a sense other worldliness. Feeling a strong connection with all the daughters who had kissed their dying mothers in my family back through time I visualised the continuance of daughter leaning over mother and, in succession, followed by the next and then the next until it came to my turn.
I leaned over mummy and, with a feeling of power and borrowed from my distant cousins I kissed her becoming part of an unending perpetual experience.
Mummy, opened her watery, pale blue eyes and looked up into my smiling and loving face and sighed, saying, “That was a wonderful sleep. If that is like dying I am ready to die.”
She tried weakly to pull herself up to a sitting position, grasping onto the metal bedstead making a great effort, with no effect; reaching awkwardly for her brush to tidy her hair and for her hearing aid, hindered by the tubes connected to her fragile arm.
I tenderly put the hearing aid in mummy’s ear, stroked her arms and hands; reached for the brush and tidied mummy’s fine white hair round her gaunt face. I wanted to scream out " I could have always been this loving to you if you hadn't pushed me away!"
I whispered, “What a lovely mummy”.
“Was I...am I? ” she said uncertainly, then looking straight into my eyes she said unwaveringly, “I haven’t been a very lovely mummy to you, have I?”
Shocked at this uncharacteristic, intimate confession, I kept my face calm. My thoughts raced through all the possible answers I could give her and wondering why had she said this so late in her lifetime. Too, too late for long reconciliations.
I smiled down at her and said softly, “Let's remember happy times. As I came down on the train I passed by Mudeford, where you and Daddy took me during school holidays. Remember how I dug holes with Sandra in front of the beach hut?”
Mummy's face changed from bewildered sadness to a relaxed happy smile, her eyes sparkling she recalled the holidays we had on the south coast, in Rustington. In her last lucid moments she was still describing happy romantic memories of her holidays with Daddy, when they were young and carefree, as she fell asleep again. She did not fully wake up again. I left her bedside after reading a prayer the minister had left on the bedside table and returned home in a daze.
Jacques leaned anxiously towards me as I sat down on the couch next to him. “How did it go?” he asked.
“She said I wasn't a lovely mummy, was I?” I sobbed. Jacob reached out and held me in his arms.
The next day my sister, phoned me whilst she sat with her mummy describing the signs of gradual death.
Then as I sat meditating sending out supportive vibes to my sister, Sandra said quietly, “She has died, the nurse is recording it now.”
I shivered weakly as the stark fatal reality of death clutched at my heart.
I wrote in my diary the next day. I love my mother. Because I love my mother I also feared her. I feared her because I loved her so much her words hurt me more.