I once heard it said that you don’t know what it’s like to lose your Mother, until it’s too late. Obviously, this is true. No one can know the loss, until it happens. However, I never knew the depth of the loss, the pain of knowing she won’t ever be there anymore for me to chat to.
My mother passed away last year on the 15th November, 2018. She died in my arms, which I am forever grateful for. This is how I entered this world, in her arms. I am filled with deep appreciation for that moment. On the day she passed away, my aunt, her only surviving sister, was with us. The carer who had taken care of my mother both day and night, except every third weekend, had just bathed my mother and had gone into the house to have her late breakfast. This was a Thursday. My mother had slipped into a coma on the Sunday prior. The doctor explained that she had an infection, but because of the advanced stage of Alzheimer’s that was my mother’s disease, coupled with her low body mass, her body was unable to fight the infection. It was possibly a strain of the flu, as both myself and my granddaughter, who also lives with me, had been ill the week prior to my mother’s illness. I digress… My aunt had stepped out of the room where my mother was lying in the bed, to take a call from one of the many family members, who were calling to find out what was happening.
When my aunt left the room, I climbed onto the bed and lay next to my mother. I contacted my sister who lives in New Zealand, to say the end was close. I could see a change in my mother’s breathing. Her breaths were slow and shallow and quite intermittent and erratic. My sister was awaiting the call and her and each of her three children, sent a voice note that I then played to my mother. Each one was able, from far away, to say their goodbyes. My nephew, Jethro, asked me if I could play the song, “Blue suede shoes”, by Elvis. As I started playing the song, my mother took her last breath. For a little while, I could just lay with her in my arms, listening to Elvis, her favourite singer of all time, and be a little bit lost in memories and nostalgia. I stroked her hair and told her how much I loved her and how much her life had meant to me. It was a brief but exceptionally tender moment. My aunt then walked in and I stood up from the bed. She asked if it was over and I nodded. She too, came over to my mother and hugged her and said her own emotional goodbye. We needed to let Gladys, the carer know, so my aunt went to call her. She was the kindest person in the world. She had taken such expert care of my mother, who could be extremely difficult at times. If you understand Alzheimer’s, you will know the terrible mood swings the person suffers from. Gladys took everything in her stride. She lay over my mother’s frail body, lamenting in her own language, tears streaming down her face. My cleaning lady, who happened to be working that day, also came in to say her goodbyes. Each of these women, come from different African cultures and it was quite telling how differently they showed their grief, but each one of us, needed in our own way, to let go the best way we knew how. Nelie, my cleaning lady, prayed for my mother in her own language. I don’t know what she said, but I do know how moving the prayer was. I could sense something far larger than all of us in the room, as peace descended and we seemed to take a collective, deep breath.
I will forever be indebted to my father, who allowed me to take care of my mother in her final months of life on earth. He did the best he could, but is seven years older than my mother, and had himself, suffered a cardiac arrest five years prior to my mother’s passing. He himself wasn’t well, and the toll of taking care of my mother, was beginning to affect his general health and well being. The day I brought my mother to live with me, was the first time I truly realised the extent of the severity of this disease, as it presented symptomatically in her. My husband and I, committed to visiting with my parents, who live a good 2 hours away, every third week. Sometimes I would go alone, but mostly, we would visit my folks together. Of course I had noticed the decline in my mother’s memory, her inability to hold a conversation, her excessive and rapid weight loss – but I think each one of us, all the siblings, was in denial. My two birth daughters, my granddaughter and myself, were holidaying in Greece when my father called me to say he could absolutely, no longer cope with taking care of my mother himself. Many times before this point, my husband, Johann, and I had made the suggestion to get a carer in for the day to assist my father. Each time, he refused. So I had no clue it was as bad as it was, until that call whilst in Crete. As soon as we arrived home, I started making the preparations to bring my mother to me. As a family, my Dad, my siblings and myself, made a unanimous decision to let me take care of my Mom with the help of a carer. Fortunately, my sister, who lives abroad, also agreed and she arrived to assist with settling my mother here. It was such a precious time for her and I too, to bond over the caring of my Mom. We are the only two daughters, so it was indeed special that we chose the carer together. As a family, we also made the decision, due to the advancement of the disease, to not give any active treatment, should any other illness arise. I don’t think any one of us knew just how close the end of my mother’s life was, but there was a profound sense of peace knowing we had had the difficult conversations before her death. When she became ill and slipped into the coma, no one reneged on our initial decisions. We just made sure Mom was as comfortable as possible. She passed away with not one single bedsore, even though she weighed only 35kgs! Gladys would get up in the night, even before my mother was in the coma, and turn her over every few hours. She was our angel who was diligent with my mother’s pressure care, having conversations with my mother that made no sense, laughing at my mother’s jokes, even though she could not make head or tail of their meaning. She was a rare treasure to all of us, but especially to my mother. She only cared for my mother for a little over 4 months, but became my mother’s safety blanket in that short time. My mother would cling to her for comfort and support. Because she was so close to my Mom, she also bore the brunt of her anger outbursts. This Gladys took, all the good and the not so great, with dignity and grace. We still remember her fondly, and keep in touch with her even though she has now moved on to assist another family.
And so it is, as I come to the end of writing my first ever blog post, that I remember my mother as a woman who deeply loved. She was a woman who truly loved others without expectation of being loved in return. She had a rather difficult life with my father. He was a wounded man, an unconscious man, who could never love her as she loved him – but that never deterred her. Because of his wounds, there were times when we, his children, suffered as a result of his verbal, emotional and physical abuse. We often witnessed my father abusing my mother. When I became a mother myself, I vowed my children would not suffer the way that I had. I could not understand how my mother could stay with him, and allow her children to be hurt over and over again. But in later years, it was revealed to me, that my mother too had wounds from her childhood, and in the best way she knew how, she tried to love us all from her own broken place. I was in my early forties, when I finally forgave her for not protecting us. We had a difficult conversation around that time, where I told her I’d harboured hatred toward her for many years for staying in that abusive marriage. She apologised to me, but could never give me the answers I wanted. I had to decide to forgive and let go, or forgive but disconnect. I chose the former. Am I happy with my choice? Yes, today, I’m so grateful I decided to stay in connection. We had the most beautiful goodbye I could ever hope for, and I believe the Universe gave this to me, as I was the one who chose to let go.