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Goodnight, Mama Bear

Not long after she turned eighty-five, my mother’s failing eyesight (macular degeneration) began a fast decline. She stopped driving her car and became horribly anxious about doing things that required travel.

As children, we (her daughters) had seen how difficult it had been for her and Dad to help our grandmother, and how little other family members had wanted to get involved in any way—physically or financially—to support them in Granny’s care. We’d seen it, hated it, and were determined it wasn’t going to happen that way for us should Mum or Dad ever be in that position.

So we made a plan.

As I have no dependents, my part in that plan involved traveling to her for a week once a month (timed to coincide with her eye appointments in the city), driving her to those appointments, taking her shopping, and preparing a month’s worth of meals that could go into the freezer to keep her fed until I came back. I love cooking, so that was no hardship. Both my sisters, living closer, did as much—all while holding down full-time jobs and looking after their own families, too.

Although Mum began to lose mental acuity and grew to need more support, for the best part of five years this plan worked well, and we all managed.

But in March 2018 she had a stroke and was hospitalized. This stroke was followed by others, and as a result she was no longer able to live alone. The medical advice was that she needed 24/7 professional care—something that none of us could provide.

So, with as much consultation with her as possible, we visited the available facilities and left her to decide where she’d feel most comfortable. Then we moved her into the Rest Home section of her choice.

My sisters and I spent the rest of 2018 preparing our family home (of fifty years!) for sale—which was quite a mission—selling it, moving furniture and memories all over the country, celebrating Mum’s 90th birthday, and keeping in daily touch with her as her health and mental capacity declined.

Finally, everything to do with the house was sorted out. Even better, Mum’s move from Rest Home to Dementia Unit seemed to have settled her. Although she got us confused with each other, she always recognized we were her daughters and her face lit up the moment she saw us … even if, minutes after we left, she forgot we’d been in.

The doctor told us she could continue the way she was for years or hours, there was no knowing.

So, mid November, after spending—literally—more than half the year away from home, I returned. It was time to pick up the threads of my own life, assure my husband that he did, in fact, have a wife, and get the books that I’d promised you, finished.

Or so I thought.

December 10th at two in the morning, the Rest Home called. Mum was dying.

I was four-and-a-half hours away; my next sister, an hour-and-a-half; my younger sister, fifteen minutes. The ambulance officer said Mum was already unconscious and only had a few minutes. None of us would be in time.

I’d been told that hearing is the last sense to go, so I asked the officer to hold the phone to her ear. Which she did.

I’ve no idea if Mum heard me, but I talked. I told her she wasn’t alone. That we were all with her. That we loved her so much. That she’d been a fantastic Mum and we were so grateful to her. That she wasn’t to worry because we were all safe (something she constantly fretted over) and we wouldn’t fight (for some reason she felt that when we got together we needed a referee!) and we’d look after each other—

That’s as far as I got before the ambulance officer came back on the line.

Mum had gone.

The week that followed was surreal. Those that came after—plus Christmas and New Year—were just as … odd. I guess after five years constant focus on being part of a team of carers, it’s not surprising that life suddenly feels weird. Like something’s missing. Or broken. I’m adrift. 

It’s changing. Slowly. I’m finding my way back to daily writing. Learning to be happy with small steps. Trying not to feel guilty about taking up my own joys again.

I know if Mum were here she’d tell me to stop being silly. To get on and make the most of every moment, every breath. Because one day, the moments will end. The breath will be gone.

But letting go seems so … wrong, somehow. Like, by letting go, I’m saying she doesn’t matter. That her death was a small thing, something easy to walk away from.

If you’ve lost someone you love, you’ve probably been through these same feelings. Wondered the same thing. 

I’m here to tell you that you’re not a lousy daughter, or a heartless son. You’re human. My sisters and I did everything we could—every possible thing—and still we wonder if we could have done more … even while knowing we couldn’t have.

Love gives, yes. But in the end, Love’s true gift isn’t something you give. It’s what you become with what you’ve been given. Mum would be the first to say she wasn’t the perfect parent. But she—and Dad—gave us a sensitive moral compass and a solid foundation of practical love. Those two things are as much part of us as our blood and bones, and we are what we are—and do what we do—because of it.

Goodnight, Mama Bear. I love you.

Miss you every day.

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Forgiveness was the hardest concept to accept after my Mum’s passing. Accepting that everything that could be done had been done was the first hurdle to overcome, then the survivor guilt and a general sense of loss and confusion. My way of coping was to include Mum in conversations, reference things she’s said, keep her memory alive and inclusive, try to think about what she would have done in certain circumstances, talk about her like we used to talk about Nan and other relatives that had been part of our lives and still were. It will be two years this… Read more »

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