i remember, as a child, everything being so tall… perhaps it’s my earliest memory. i remember everything being above me… the dining room table… what was there? the kitchen work surfaces… the bathroom sink, where i would struggle on tip-toes to wash my hands… the book case… the ceiling… the shelves in my bedroom, stacked with toys, all just beyond my reach… and the sky… the Heavens… seemed so far away in both distance and time.
i remember walking through a forest of legs. i remember my mother’s legs. i remember holding onto them in places familiar and places new. i would cling to them when i was scared, unsure or feeling lost amid the voices and conversations i was not yet old enough to comprehend… lost, amid the cigarette smoke and the laughter and the music; lost, in another world, an adult world, a world i couldn’t fully feel at home in, but home it was. i remember that with one stroke of my mother’s hand upon my head everything would feel better. and i loved it when she sang to me.
i remember looking up at my mother, admiring her… how pretty i thought she looked with her hair curled and shining; her face smiling down at me with so much love in her eyes. love, tinged with sadness.
oh, i knew that she loved me. i knew that she cherished me because she told me that i was precious. precious because 10 weeks before i was born, my mother lost a son. a son called William, he was 18 years old. he was just a boy. a beautiful young boy. a boy that my mother said i looked like.
i remember looking up at a particular photograph. i remember wondering why the boy in the photo made my mother cry and wondered if the reason she often cried when she held me was because of him, or me. i remember, one day, taking that photograph and stuffing it face-down in a drawer. i didn’t want my mother to be unhappy any more, and the boy in the photograph seemed to make her unhappy. all of the time.
she went crazy, tearing open cupboards and drawers… then she found it. she asked me why i put it ‘there‘… i told her. and, again, she cried. it was then she told me the story of William: the brother i never knew. the brother who she would, understandably, pine for for all her days.
time, forever the paradox, hushes that memory and that day seems so far away – in both time and distance.
today i went to visit her in hospital. she is 90. she is frail. she is small.
today her eyes are still tinged with sadness, but they still teem with love when i walk in the room.
she is a shadow of her former self. she is not eating and is barely drinking. she is not well, neither physically nor mentally. i wonder if she is just biding her time here with us. i wonder if she is simply tired of the struggle… tired of the pain… the loss and the hopelessness. has she given in? has she lost the will to continue on, in this cracked and useless mortal coil?
she tells me she’s done, yet she asks me if i’m happy.
“yes!!” i say… with resounding cheer in my voice. “i am very happy. the happiest i have ever been”
… and yet upon hearing the resignation in her voice, i am the saddest girl on Earth.
as i fold my arms around her bony frame, i am reminded of my own mortality and the cruelty of death and loss. i feel like i am losing her and if i hold her too tightly, she may just disappear from me altogether and leave me in a blind panic.
a panic. just like a time when i was a little girl, shopping with my mother and father, and losing her amid a strange, deep and dark forest of strangers’ legs and loud voices, and hideously patterned floor. i remember looking… searching… frantic for my her, for her legs to cling to… for her hands to stroke my head… for her voice… that song in her voice.
i was lost.
at a loss, and lost – as i feel right now.
but today, i am taller. my mind, still curious, is now awakened to the weird fairtytales that were once adult conversations. the smoke has cleared and i’ve learned to dance to the music. i have found my voice and i have travelled to the other side of the world. i no longer search for her legs to cling to and hide behind… oh… but what i wouldn’t give to be able to be a child again… for one day… to be, once again, with my able mother and have her hold me and tell me everything is going to be alright.
because it’s not…
… she isn’t going to get better. her body is failing and her mind is permanently on vacation; it has a one-way ticket out of here.
i wish I could keep her here, now… or in that memory… but maybe i am not enough… maybe my brothers… her grandchildren… maybe a visit from her other daughter…? or maybe… maybe our family is not enough to keep her here. i mean… how could it be? it’s incomplete. someone is missing… someone vital… someone who could have sealed the cracks.
tonight, i stood tall and gazed up at the ceiling… there are cracks in the ceiling… some big, some small… many irreparable. just like those memories of childhood, when i would gaze up in wonder. the mystery is no longer a mystery. the cracks no longer hold mystery; she is no longer a mystery, but yet i marvel at how she managed to go on after such loss. i know what she wants. the cracks are beginning to show. they are deepening stress fractures from bearing such a load. life. loss. death. death of a son. death of her parents. death of her sisters and brother. death of her husband and my father. death of friends. death of her able body. death of hope.
but her mind is, strangely, liberated. i take comfort in that.
sitting side by side on her hospital bed, haplessly covered with a stained blue blanket, we talk. she tells me she’s done. she tells me she is tired. she tells me things that only her eyes can convey.
as a grown-up, i now understand. i get it. but oh it is hard to bear. hard to hear. hard to accept. but not hard to comprehend.
she is trapped inside ‘this useless body’ – she is imprisoned. imprisoned in ward 3. imprisoned in her dementia and silent world. it is no wonder she prefers to escape with sleep. sleep ‘to pass the time until…’
‘until what, Mum? elevenses? visiting hours?’ i ask, choking on my own throat.
[the big sle..?]
but her mind is on holiday, she changes direction, and once again i am that little girl lost.
so… should i patch up the ceiling… could i patch it up? could i patch her up? if only i could, yet i wonder… if i should? i feel as though i am losing her, little by little, crack by crack and splinter.
maybe i should let her go… or have i lost her already?
(c) Kat McDonald 2017