who was changed and who was dead
of the many tributes to my mother shared in the days immediately following her death, there was one that particularly resonated with me; most were numbly absorbed and appreciated, yes, but difficult to meaningfully process.
but an old colleague had said,
I was deeply shocked to hear that [she] had died, which may sound strange as I knew that she has been ill for quite some time. But like so many of our strong civil rights leaders, you expect them to be invincible…
i’d shared this expectation. naively, perhaps, i had accepted the news of another hospital admission as routine. my partner and i were in another city around 50 miles away, visiting friends. they had told me of a brand new pregnancy, the second in my circle in recent months, and both very much wanted by the couples who shared them; wonderful people who deserved the happy news.
we’d shared a dinner, some drinks, and with a full heart and belly, and reassured that my mum was being well cared for, i slept peacefully.
through all my years of smartphone adoration, i’d always silenced my phone completely at bedtime. oddly, the first time my mum was rushed into intensive care in may 2017, i’d activated its vibrate function a few hours before the 5am call from my brother, for no reason in particular.
it was the same familiar buzzing that woke me just after 4am on that early autumn morning. our hotel room was so cold; we were still meant to be sleeping at that time. perhaps it was the early hour, or the distance between us and the intensive care unit where my mum had already been twice resuscitated, or maybe it was the quiet taxi journey we took less than half an hour later, but i felt painfully sick, my empty stomach churning. i think perhaps i knew that i was readying myself to say goodbye.
my mum was quite lucid when we arrived. when i sat beside her and took her hand, her last words to me: “hello, love”.
she asked for her glasses so she could see us all huddled around. the air was thick and stifling, and though i had spent many cumulative hours sitting at her bedside in the months prior, i couldn’t spend another minute there waiting. my mum loved wildflowers, the heat of bright sunshine, the freedom of swimming in the warm sea. not this room, not this hot, thick air.
all i seem to recall with any lucidity about that night and morning are the sensory extremes i experienced; cold/sick/hot/heartsick.
no-one told me that she would be soon be gone, but they knew, and i think i knew too. no-one told my mum that her kidneys had failed, or that her heart was only beating because of the drugs that were prolonging its function, a magic-trick that could not be sustained.
i left to sit outside in the too-cool early morning air. then, exhausted, i went to the icu’s waiting room to sleep, and to wait for someone to wake me and tell me it was time to say goodbye.
that moment came only an hour or so later; i sat beside my mum and held her hand for a length of time i don’t recall now. a nurse told us her heart was barely beating, and turned the monitors bearing this news away. her bipap breathing mask assisted her breathing, and created the cruelly false impression that her body was still strong, still fighting.
i curse myself now for not remembering: did she know i was there at that time? did she wake at all while i held her hand? i feel like she did, as i remember repeating ‘we’re all here, we’re all here’.
eventually, the nurse returned to tell us, gently, that my mum’s heart had stopped beating. the mask continued to push air in and out of her lungs, and so it was turned off and removed.
death did not suit my mother. a word that appeared and reappeared frequently in the days and weeks following was fierce. at the time of her first hospital admission i had mused on our birthdays, only two days apart, straddling an astrological cusp. and yet she was so very fiercely leo, and I was so very melancholically cancer. to see her vulnerable was distressing. to see her lifeless was beyond my understanding. i held her hand until her fingers were cold, her lips almost-blue.
a day or two later, my unconscious plotting how to somehow process the unfathomable loss, i dreamed of my own hospital admission. childless by choice in the waking world, i dreamed of a premature labour, a baby born lifeless and bloody, and my own emotionless relief.
a numbness stepped in very soon. a reaction entirely new to me; self-preservation following a catastrophic emotional event that i was unable to process. these words, this digital space, a community in mourning: all ways to begin to navigate the path of grief. i invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences; to share your losses and the most difficult of emotions.
oh, mother is a zine of a different kind; an ongoing collaborative digital initiative. please send contributions/pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org
i am sorry that i cannot pay for submissions.