The day my mum died I was woken by a phone call. As I was asleep it went to voicemail and though early, something made me check it. It was the NUM of mum’s house asking me to phone as soon as I got the message.
Thinking mum had decked some poor chap on respite or fallen on her “bum” again as she liked to put it, I phoned back. Michelle the NUM answered immediately and said that there was no easy way to say it so she would just get it out there.
” Mum is gone”
Three simple words. My life would never be the same again, with three simple words. I then did something I have never done before and hope I never live long enough to do again..I wailed. Like an animal. Michelle started crying saying “oh Kate I am so sorry”. Almost as soon as I started though I stopped. All I could think of was that my beloved mum was not going to become bedridden, forgetting how to swallow, forgetting how to breathe. She was finally free.
I was saying this over and over to the NUM and she stopped crying and she said she was glad I was taking it like that. Then began the longest of days. First to tell my son, her first and much loved grandson, then to phone Norma my parent’s gorgeous neighbour, and then to get a bus to the care home. Only a fifteen minute bus trip which seemed achievable.
Michelle met us there and took us to see mum. Her door was locked and everyone who wanted to be out of their rooms had been taken to another area. While I sat there stroking her hand and her face a steady stream of workers came by to offer their condolences, look at mum and say their goodbyes. She was beloved by all. Her feisty spirit, her non complaining manner, the sheer joy she found in her new life endeared her to patients and staff and visitors alike.
Finally the room emptied and we had some time alone with mother and grandmother. I still to this day marvel at her body. It seemed too tiny to hold her complex spirit. Her mischievous nature, her huge huge heart.
I told her what I had told her every day right up to high school. That she was the BEST mother in the world. And I smothered her face with the great big smacking kisses she used to give to those she loved. And lately I had been privileged to give her whenever I saw her and whenever I left her. She used to beam and laugh with delight. Now there was no sound. My tears were silent, the hurt too deep. I still do not know, to this day,why I did not get on that bed and never let her go.
We then thanked everyone. Assured them we would organise pickup of her things the next day and then started plotting our mammoth trip to tell dad. Cave’s Beach is three buses away, taking up to two hours depending on connections. Once we got there we had to walk up two steep hills which took twenty to thirty minutes and it took longer then because my son had Pericarditis which made walking uphill hell.
As we approached the top of the hill Dad came out of the garage where he spent most of his day on the computer, tinkering with his car and looking out to sea. He sensed something was wrong as I was not due for a few days and Chris normally came down at the weekend with his girlfriend in the car. We managed to get him into the house and I told him. Almost straight away Norma came over. She was wonderful. Kind and knowledgeable and concerned.
My son made coffees all around. Norma told us one of her closest friends had died that morning too. (And more synchronicity, Norma’s mother died a year later, on the same date as mum) I then rang my brother, who had not seen our mum for well over a year, nor had his children, her beloved grandchildren. He was beyond distraught. I comforted him as much as I could from a distance and repeatedly asked him to ring his partner to come home to be with him. Eventually he rang her work and her employer actually drove to get her and bring her home.
I then phoned my uncles. I hope I did it okay. Being migrants we have little family here. I grew up with these uncles and my aunt and my beloved late aunt, they were all we had. Norma went home then dad stirred and phoned his brother Michael in Canada and mum’s brother in the United Kingdom. It seemed to help him to talk, especially once calls started coming in from The New Line, Dooyork in County Mayo. Dad’s family home.
Gen arrived from Sydney, and typical for her, opened her arms to dad and he fell right into them. I then phoned the Trustee and Guardian’s D who told me how sorry she was and to send her all the bills for after the funeral expenses. She knew mum and dad had a prepaid plan. I then rang my co Guardian from the Public Guardian’s office and asked him to let mum’s past Guardian D know. He assured me he was going straight off to do just that. And I asked him to let my witch of a sister know. Though I had no idea what was in store when I asked him to do that. I believe I would have still asked him to phone her. I am damned with a need to do the right thing. It’s a character flaw and gets me into so much trouble. I then rang the funeral home and they arranged to come out the next day. Just before dinner dad got his good suit out. Absolutely no idea what decade it was from but he wanted to know it would be fitting for mum’s funeral.
So imagine our surprise and my horror the next day when the person dealing with the funeral said it was cremation only and that my sister had been on the phone to them telling them to let her know if anything was changed. The obituary was also scheduled to go into the SMH on the Saturday after she was cremated. Too late for anyone to do anything then anyway.
My mum, who had never been alone in her life, died alone in her sleep and was to be cremated the following day all alone. After the Funeral Director had gone I went a tad nuts. I went into the garden and sobbed and sobbed. Trying to hide it from dad, looking out for everyone but myself, as usual. Dad was out on the balcony when Norma came in and found me crying at the kitchen table. The one where we had shared so much together. Where I had sat as I mended my parent’s sheets when I moved up there because there was not a decent set in the house. The one where we always had lunch together when I used to visit from Sydney. The table my son and myself ate dinner at together, long after my dad had gone to bed.
Norma came up to me, asked me what had happened, wrapped me in her arms and rocked me. Much as my son had with my mum when she went into care. I had quite thick long greying hair then and Norma spent a good ten minutes picking bits of shredded tissue out of my hair. Tenderly, so tenderly, a true sister in spirit. While sitting there being groomed by my beloved Norma my co Guardian rang to let me know he had spoken to my sister. His cheery voice sounded alien to me. He could not be talking about how she cried on the phone to him. How she said she went to a priest who said a prayer and was going to include mum in the mass. Because my mum was not going to have a funeral. No closure. No Catholic Canon followed. No chance for loved ones to show how much she meant to them, how she was so beloved.
I think I apologised to the co Guardian who sounded exactly as one would do if a strange woman had just cried all over him on the phone…uncomfortable yet caring and truly in a difficult position. I then had to pull myself together and phone mum’s brothers to let them know and ask if they wanted to view mum. Dad and my brother were going in later to view her so it meant my son and girlfriend leaving the care home where they were trying to pack up mum’s belongings. Not easy as my son broke down there. Like me he thought we would have more time with the fun person my mum reverted to or became because of Alzheimer’s. They went to his flat and found the beautiful suit I had bought mum recently and also bought new underwear to add to the things they brought from the care home. They then had to get the outfit up to the Crematorium in Wallsend in Newcastle.
So my gorgeous mum, whose biggest trip alone was to bravely go to England by herself to see me married over thirty years ago, was cremated alone. But not alone in spirit. Norma and her friends, my Facebook friends worldwide prayed for her at that exact moment. I sat in the lower garden, breathing quietly and deeply as I had been taught in self hypnosis over thirty years before. And focussed on my mum. I prayed, personal prayers of gratitude for having the honour of being there in the last year of her life. For the moments we had shared. She was the daughter and I the mother at times. We were friends, sisters, companions and I adored her.
When I finally opened my eyes I had no idea how much time had passed, I was aware however of silence. And deepest grief mixed with a feeling of release. Then the cacophony of birdsong reached my ears. I had been so deep in reflection I had not heard the incredible birdsong at all. Marvelling, I looked up, and there was a sea eagle hovering overhead. Just hovering. I watched it until it was out of sight somewhere over the horizon, this eagle a promise that my mum’s spirit had finally soared free.