“when you pass through the waters,
I will be with you…
For I am the Lord your God
And you are precious in my sight…”
Isaiah 43:2-4On Wednesday Mim rang me to let me know mum had her appointment with the doctor and could I ring her to wish her luck. I rang and rang her but never got an answer and was becoming quite concerned. I quickly got on the phone to ring Mim to tell her mum wasn’t answering and could she go and check on her. I don’t know why but I could sense something wasn’t quite right hence my need for Mim to go to the house to check on mum. Mim and James went to the house immediately to find mum on the toilet unable to move because she simply did not have the energy or ability. She was rushed to hospital after this.
I continued my work experience over the next two days living in a daze. Selfishly I wanted to complete my week there but it was also because I denied what was really going on up at home. Mim and I spoke on the phone frequently over these two days and nights. I remember clearly trying to wash the dishes on Thursday night but all that went through my mind was Mim telling me that the nurses don’t expect mum to come out of hospital. I tried understanding this but just didn’t want to, there had to be something wrong and misunderstood of the nurses. How could they say this? Lana came into the kitchen and perceived my sadness and confusion and asked what was wrong. I burst into tears and told her mum was dying. I was so scared and felt so isolated from the situation being so far away.
During the day I rang the hospital a few times to try and gain an understanding of what was actually going on. All the nurses could tell me was that the cancer had affected many other organs in mum’s body and it looks like it could be very serious. I asked over and again how long does she have but the nurses couldn’t say. Their tone sounded grim but what they were saying didn’t mainly because they never actually said she was dying.
On Friday I finished early at Featherdale so I could book my train ticket to go back home. Once again I pretended nothing was wrong and put on my happy face mask. To be truthful I didn’t really know how to act. I mean what do you say when someone you don’t know very well asks how you are, it’s not exactly polite to say “well my mum’s dying, how are you?”
I booked my train ticket that evening still not comprehending what was really going on. I couldn’t imagine that this trip up meant that I was actually saying goodbye to my mother. Charles came and had a little chat with me that night to let me know he is willing to do mum’s funeral (he was a deacon in the Catholic church). Like I wanted to hear that then. I accepted his offer not realising it would actually eventuate.
The next day I caught the train home. When I arrived at Central station about to board the train there was an announcement for me to see the person at the front of the train. I was so scared that they were going to pass on a message that mum had died. They did have a message for me to ring my sister, so I did so instantly. Mim was in a panic and asked if it was possible in anyway to catch a plane up. There was no way to do this, so I remained with the train. By now reality had sunk in and I was praying so hard that mum would last until I got up to see her. I regretted my selfishness in wanting to complete my week of work experience at Featherdale and asked to not be punished through mum dying before I got to see her. The train was then delayed at Fassifern for some reason. It seemed like a lifetime of waiting there. I was totally numb. The only thing I imagined was happening was that God was punishing me for not leaving earlier, and I wouldn’t see mum before she died. Train people walked down the aisles checking tickets, and taking meal orders. They saw my tears and one asked if I was ok. All I wanted to say was “my mother is dying, and all you can say is are you ok?”. Of course I didn’t.
James had driven down half the trip from home to meet me off the train and drive up to get there quicker. The whole trip up he warned me to expect the worst when I saw mum because it didn’t look good. He requested that when I saw mum that I try to be strong and not show my fear or sorrow. Nothing though can ever prepare a person for when they see a loved one who is dying. I had the biggest shock ever and had to leave the room.
Mim and I stayed the night at the hospital by mum’s side. Her pain was obvious by the way she groaned sometimes. At one stage she momentarily stopped breathing. At this point I prayed to God to just take her away. I felt extremely guilty and selfish for this but I could not bear to watch this suffering go on.
Understandably food was not a conscious issue over this time. All I remember is how hungry I actually was. All I wanted to do was eat and eat, and whenever I did I was still hungry. I didn’t bother with worrying about how I could get rid of the food because it seemed to be burning itself off by stress.
Jess and Chris were quite supportive and understanding as Chris had been through a very similar situation. I talked openly with them and really let my feelings out. I couldn’t help myself really and they were so helpful. I think Mim and I tried to shut off how we felt when around each other because we probably thought we needed to be stronger for mum and for each other.
One of Mim’s friends drove down from Queensland to be with us, which was great. Although the day she arrived there she rang up people to inform them of her whereabouts. She told them that she was visiting a friend whose mother is dying. Being quietly spoken as I was I let this go by without saying a word to her about how it really hurt and saddened me that she said this in such a carefree way. Instead I let all the emotion build up inside me. Charles from Lawson had arrived by this time also to offer support and to be available for the funeral.
The days at the hospital were becoming exhausting. We came to know the ward fairly well - eating there, sleeping there, and having friends there. By Tuesday though we had enough and we both just wanted to see a different environment, to escape the depression of the hospital. I wanted a night’s sleep in a bed of my own without waking up every hour to see if mum was alive or not. Mim and I actually shared the single bed next to mum’s bed and we took it in shifts to stay up and watch her. We’d talk to her, and hold her hand. Often we’d rub cream into her hands just so they wouldn’t get too dry.
Today we alternated going home to Mim’s house to have a nice long shower, get changed in fresh new clothes, and possibly have something to eat. Mim went first and I was very nervous. I sensed that things seemed different today. While Mim was away the nurses approached me with a very heavy question and I had to make a decision on the spot. I had to state whether or not I wanted mum’s drip replaced after the current one ran out. By replacing the drip we would be prolonging the death, but to not replace the drip would mean the death would happen sooner. I hated having to make the decision without Mim there but they needed to know soon. I decided that the kinder option was to cut out the drip but after I told them this I just broke down and cried. Mim understood why I did this after I told her and said she would have done the same.
That afternoon Mim, James, Charles, and I sat outside and had a chat about all our options regarding how long we should continue staying at the hospital, if I should go back to Lawson for my job interview, the funeral, and stuff. Our lives were just hanging because at this stage we had no idea how long mum would go on for. It could be days before she passed away. Charles thought it would be worthwhile that if nothing happened by Friday I should fly home and back for my interview. I agreed at the time fully knowing in my head it was far from an option. I already felt selfish enough having come up so late in mum’s illness, let alone thinking of ditching her again.
My friend Pamela’s family had been sympathetic and helpful over the days, often visiting at the hospital or bringing home cooked dinner for us at the hospital. On this particular day they invited us over for dinner that night. We thought about it a lot over the day because none of us wanted to leave mum. Someone suggested to us however that it would be beneficial for us to have a break and it may be an idea for us to inform mum, though not conscious, that we would be going out. We contemplated this advice and went ahead to tell mum we were going out for the evening and if she preferred to pass away when we weren’t there that she has our permission too do so. A friend of mum’s stayed by her side while we went out for dinner that night. Mum and this lady knew each other from the time that mum moved out to Australia from Germany in 1972. It was comforting knowing someone was by mum’s side.
Dinner was somewhat awkward because all of us were pretending the whole way through. The conversation topics were nothing thrilling simply because we were all just trying to skirt around the issue of mum so just saying whatever we felt like about nothing at all. All of us were on edge waiting for the phone to ring. Finally at the end of dinner it rang. There was a dead silence in the air as it was answered because we knew who was on the other end. The nurses informed us to get to the hospital quickly as mum was going.
Time moved in such slow motion from then. We knew we had to get to the hospital but all of us were scared. The Smith’s hugged us quickly then we drove away, none of us speaking. We arrived only moments after the phone call but mum had already passed away. Mim’s Godmother aunty Ann was with mum in her last moments holding her hand. Charles was already there also and he asked if either of us wanted to see mum. I did because I needed to believe that she was really dead. I had a great shock when I saw her lying there and nearly collapsed on the floor. She was dead! All life had been taken out of her and she lay there still and expressionless on her bed. The tubes had all been removed and all that remained was her withered, frail little body hiding under the sheets. It was something I didn’t like to view but I needed to in order to believe she was no longer alive.
It came time for us to leave the hospital and I was ready to go with Mim and James. Mim looked at me and requested that I stay where Charles is staying, with a friend. I wasn’t upset by this decision at all because it was better for us both to have someone else to talk to.
The whole night Charles and I discussed death, life, and God. A lot of it I could not fully grasp because my head was literally spinning. At one point it felt as though my head had disassociated itself from my body and I was looking down at both of us talking. Finally I decided to go to bed. I lay there numb and in disbelief not even able to cry.
The next day was all just running around making arrangements for the funeral. It was difficult telling people there was a funeral for mum as not even many of them knew of her illness or death. When I rang Lyn in Armidale she laughed at me assuming it was a big joke. She was quite upset when she realised I was serious and went ahead to make arrangements to come.
Organising what to wear for the funeral was an issue itself. I wanted to wear something nice and light coloured, but that didn’t belong to me. I borrowed clothes from Jess and selfishly delighted in the fact that they were too big for me. My apparent skinniness was noticed after attempts to use safety pins to hold the skirt up. Lyn was shocked to see my rib cage not realising how much weight I had lost since we had last seen each other. A few others made comments but I just ignored them because I was more focused on trying not to be too upset about the funeral.
It didn’t feel as though there should have been a funeral on on this day. It was a gorgeous sunny day and it just felt like everything was a dream and mum was still alive and we were all just having a get together. It was a different story however once we turned up to the church. Reality slowly sunk in as I remembered what we were there for. I still found it hard to comprehend that it was mum’s dead body in the coffin at the front. It was a nice small funeral with close friends who knew mum well and loved her dearly. Many of our friends there actually felt such a closeness to mum as if she were their own mother. Afterwards we all shared tea and coffee and Mim and I heard some amusing stories about mum.