I'm writing this in the plane returning home, turning from my iPad to look out at rivers and mountains and wispy clouds when the tears threaten to spill over. It’s the first time I’ve been alone in the last ten days, so I’ve managed to keep them largely at bay till now. You see, I'm on the way home from burying my mother.
It was always going to be a sad trip. My younger sister and I headed south about ten days ago to see her, conscious that as she was failing fast, and if we waited any longer, she might not know us, or be able to take any pleasure in our visit. Since an operation in November, which was in itself successful, she needed full-time care and entered a rest home. But her cancer was progressing faster than we had expected, and by late January, she was unable to walk. Unfortunately, she couldn't remember this fact, and fell and broke her hip and wrist. The combination of dementia and cancer is a nasty one.
Her first days in hospital were comfortable. But as they attempted to make her ready to move to a hospital-level care rest home, and adjusted her pain medication, she began to suffer. Between my sisters and I, we fought for her. Uncharacteristically, she cried out in pain, and later, cruelly, she could remember the “terrible, awful” pain when usually she forgot everything else. She was so fearful that it might return, and utterly confused as to why it was occurring, and she cried and wanted to go home. Her daughters wept in frustration and anger to the nurses, pleading for pain relief. Finally, it came, and she was comfortable.
"I'm as good as gold really," she said to me - one of her classic phrases - in a short lucid phase, after a particularly agonising episode. My mother was an expert at the stiff upper lip, even though (or perhaps because) she had suffered (largely undiagnosed) periods of depression during her life. Long before we knew the phrase "suck it up," we were practised in its execution, with her as our role model.
Later, comfortable at last, she hallucinated – “can you see that?” she asked - chattering away to me incoherently, but still sounding like her. “Let’s have a party,” she said. I smiled, and agreed it was a good idea. Of course, it turned out that we did have a party, but it was the one party she would never be able to attend.
We knew she was failing, but the end came much more quickly than any of us had expected. But she was ready to go, and knowing that has made it easier. We had been saying our good-byes for years now, as little parts of her slipped away. Our final farewell was a lovely service on a beautiful day, filled with family and friends, and neighbours from the years on the farm, and even one or two of her old schoolmates from the '40s.
She, who never forgot she was born a Rose, went surrounded by bright, beautiful roses, some from her garden, some from my sister’s.
The radio had always been the backdrop to her life, her connection to the outside world. We, her daughters, all remembered her listening to and liking different music, so there was some of the organ music her mother used to play, along with Elvis, Beethoven, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Henry Mancini.
"Fly me to the moon," sang Sinatra, before the service.
Not quite, Mum. But close enough.