Monday, February 27, 2006

Top of the family tree

This morning the phone rang as we were getting ready to go to meeting and just for a moment I thought it was my mother wanting something. Then I remembered – she died 6 weeks ago.

She was 92, physically increasingly frail although mentally alert, so in many ways her death was expected. Certainly she herself had been wishing for it for years, but I had somehow convinced myself that she would go on for ever.

She was taken into hospital on a Thursday with a suspected heart attack although the doctors were not sure what was wrong. I was called and sat with her for 10 hours as we waited for diagnoses and decisions. At the time I was anxious, frustrated and exhausted but I am glad now that we had that time together. I held her hand and interpreted between the hospital staff and her deafness and she stroked my head, something I cannot remember her ever doing before, and apologised for all the grey hairs she had given me.

She was admitted for tests but the weekend intervened and the tests were not done. I settled into a visiting routine shared with my son Matt who lives nearby and she seemed to be improving, finding the energy to complain and demand as usual. On Monday, after I had seen her at lunchtime, she saw a doctor she liked who told her they were still not sure what was wrong. My son saw her in the evening and told me she was in fine form, laughing and joking with him. Early on Tuesday morning came the phone call from the hospital I had been dreading for years. “Your mother’s not good. Please come now.” In fact by the time the call was made sudden heart failure had almost certainly already taken her past any hope of resuscitation.

Since I said goodbye to her that morning I have had a lot to do and think about. I am slowly coming to terms with the absence of someone who had gradually needed more and more of my time - two days a week with her and many more hours organising her care and her finances, worrying about her and looking for ways to make her existence more bearable. I miss her and weep at the most unexpected things but at the same time all kinds of possibilities are opening up in the space she has left.

I am an only child and my father died 22 years ago. Now I am at the top of my family tree, the older generation, the keeper of family memories. More than ever I feel a responsibility to write down what I remember, what I have been told and what I can find out. I made a start when I wrote the eulogy for my mother’s funeral, trying to be fair to her and true to our intense and not always easy relationship. Writing this is another step on the journey.