My Mum, Molly, died in the early hours of the morning on Sunday the 14th of June. She was the ripe old age of 96, and up until 95 she had lived a full and active life – spending the winter months in her beloved Bali; travelling extensively within Australia in the warmer months; socialising with friends built up over the years; reading newspapers and books voraciously; barracking for her football team (Geelong). But 95 proved to be the beginning of the end for Mum. Her sight declined (due to macular degeneration), her mobility wavered (to the point she needed a walking frame) and her speech slurred.
As Mum said, she had outlived her use by date. She felt it was definitely time to ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’, but unfortunately for Mum she had the heart of an ox. A heart that continued to beat strongly, despite the increasing frailty of the frame that housed it. The long and the short of it was that she ended up in hospital after a fall that she had no recollection of, and from there went into a nursing home around the corner from Mum & Dad’s apartment – which allowed Dad to visit her several times a day. She however did not go quietly into the home, and her distress grew daily, hand in hand with the complete loss of her sight, speech and ability to get out of bed.
It was an awful time – for Mum, for Dad and for my sister and me. At the time it felt like forever but luckily it was only 2 months. So, I was more than ready for her to die, so she, and we, could be released from this agony of vulnerability. To be honest, her death came as a relief, as now her, and our, suffering was over. So, I have been somewhat blindsided by the frequent and random attacks of grief I have been feeling about her death.
However, the basis for my grief became clear to me upon re reading the wonderful novel “The Meaning of Grace” by Deborah Forster. Grace is the mother of Edie, Juliet and Ted. She is a woman who takes her 3 young children from the family home, and the increasing depression of husband and father Ian, and escapes to start a hard won life in a down at heel beach town. We meet Grace, and the two sisters, at the beginning of the novel when Grace is an elderly woman and has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Through Edie’s eyes we learn about Grace’s life, and the lives of Edie and, to a lesser extent, Juliet and Ted. The characters – in all their far from perfect ways – are so realistic that it is easy to empathise with the family dynamics and the course their lives take. The house, and the town in which it sits, is beautifully drawn – you can see this place in your mind.
But, what crystallised my feelings of grief was the fact that Grace is taken home to die (thanks to Juliet’s insistence). In contrast, my Mum was at the mercy of the ministrations of the staff at the Nursing Home, who despite good intentions were so badly understaffed that good words rarely resulted in good deeds. I am grieving at the way that Mum died, not so much at the fact that she died. Nursing homes are no place for old women (or men) – and is that ever a scary thought.