I am sitting at the tiny white round table in my parents kitchen. With the inevitable cup of tea in front of me. My sister and my nieces are squished in on the surrounding chairs. I cant remember if I drank the tea. I cant remember what was said to break the wall holding me up. But suddenly I am giving chocking sobs and apologising. ‘What are you apologising for? they ask. I’m not really clear on that myself but, through jerking tears, I say ‘I dont know what to do’.
This is true. I knew what to do with mum when she was dying. My nurses training kicked in, medications, mouth care, comfort, talking to carers, nurses, doctors . If I wanted my mum I could sit down take her hand and listen to her breathing slowly on her surgical bed and feel useful. My love for her and her need co-incided.
Now I don’t know what to do. My sister and my dad divide up the list of people to call (and tell that mum has died) between them. Together they decide that the cat, who we knew had had a stroke but gave mum such comfort, is suffering too much and have her put to sleep.
My dad rings the doctor to get mum’s death confirmed and the funeral home to have her body removed.
My skills supporting mum are of no use now. I retreat to the guest bedroom. The shutter is only partly open and its surprisingly dark. Without mum here I just want to go home. My husband and kids are already in a plane halfway accross the Atlantic if I could I would teleport to them. I can’t so intstead I push open the shutters letting light spill past the glossy green magnolia leaves that frame the window. I begin to pull my stuff together. I gather my pile of discarded clothes and take them to be washed.
The washing machine is in the back upstairs bathroom and it looks like a laundry in there right now clothes hanging drying from the lazy susan hanging from the ceeling, draped accross two portable airers. Mum’s beloved rotary iron (withs the warning notice and large printed instructions she put up after I used it and forgot to turn it off! ) is nearly hidden from view. When she was well rigorous order reigned here. You would find her at 6am up ironing and tidying. I pick a way through the chaos and put my clothes in the machine. Instead of the liquid detergent mum likes to use, a pack of ‘all-in-one persil tabs’ has appeared. I prefer these but the sight of them is depressing. I put one in the machine and shut the door swilvel the knob to easy care quick and press start.
Now what? Mum here and well would be out in the town gardening. The other day in the park I had noticed there were weeds in the enclosures round mum’s carefully chosen Hooker plants. I suggested to my sister and nieces that we head out and clear these this afternoon. This is greeted with enthusiasm. So around 3.30 we are all four bent down pulling weeds inside the chicken wire enclosures. Heavy showers come and go, we carry on digging with the trowel, snipping witn the secateurs. When we are finished I look the tidy freshly turned earth I know mum would be thrilled. I just wish I could tell her.
As the day goes on my sense of isolation begins to melt under everyones continued affection, hugs, expressions of support and shared grief. By 9.20pm, homemade pizza and salad inside me, sitting in the front sitting room, with the fire cracking in the grate, my sister, nieces and Dad filling the new salmon pink sofas watching University Challenge drinking wine I feel almost normal.But leaving the room I find myself instinctively turning left to check on mum.
I force myself to climb the stairs instead and manage to just make my room before the sobs come. It will fade this feeling. It will lose its overwhelming grip. It will make room for everyday delights. One day I will sit and take calm pleasure in thoughts of mum. Not yet though.