When a Mother dies – For all Mothers
“The ultimate existential issue is, of course, death-and, like all other philosophical and existential questions, the matter of death avoided as much as possible.”
When a mother approaches death in a small hospital, and, you are with her to meet that unacceptable end, one’s thoughts reel and collide with ‘God particles’ in your very own Hadron Collider. Your mind alive with death. There in shadowed moments, where life and death meet, brilliant collisions of emotions splinter and cascade into a mind stretched against a darkening backdrop of approaching death, late at night, or early, too early, in claustrophobic hospital mournings. Emotions then are suspended in schooled actions to alleviate your mother’s pain, ameliorate her suffering, as requested and administered, deathly balm is coming to her, calming her, through the split-end of a morphine rich needle by those who don’t love her as much as you, caring, perhaps not quite as much as they should. Death is coming, you can’t see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, but it is coming.
“Faith has to do with things that are not seen,
And hope with things that are not in hand”
(Saint Thomas Aquinas)
As the cancer pain intensifies, a mother, your mother asks, “why son, why?” You don’t know thus creating a halo of pain around yourself which is your understanding of the love of a mother; the captured sequestered union in all things, including her pain, as life centres and contains pain in her agony your grief and time. One reflects then perhaps hallucinates? That, through another needle’s eye, a gentle soul, that gentle spirit of Mother, my mother, your mother must, would, shall pass, at some point: that taut space, not yet, please, “not yet mum one daughter is here, another is on her way” but soon, too soon, away from all location, as thought stutters in counterpoint dissonant notes as death arrives. In one’s mind, all that matters now is the alleviation first, and then departure second, of your mother from pain. Then you realise that this life, this mother was, is, mine and your anchor on Earth and your deliverance. That is Mother, this is our Mother Earth and we are killing her too, as we waste Her away, not having cut an umbilical cord and with no where to go.
“Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower.”
Such thoughts at those times filtering through a fenestrate of confusion and tired haze when surrounded by a duteous staff kept busy by death and gossip, meaning well, doing good, but pushed all the time to do just that all the time, one cannot divorce from suspense intolerable as to death and the implications of void and the world without a mother, my mother, my mum, your mother, kept alive by the care of strangers and to what end? Knowledge, then, cast like a net, seeks to haul from a more fluid space in a molecule of time a catch of certainty, a shoal where there is none, anchors something where there is no port, no haven, no glistening, scaled certainty to bring home, only the slippery thought that held squirming for a moment slips back into the oceanic uncertainty that is the mystery of our being and becoming and the unexplained all to human mystery as to why such a gentle soul would pass through such unimpeded agony as a cancer metastasised and ripped into her body that held, hosted her life. As the Earth hosts us all.
“now the majority of us die in hospitals and nursing homes. The prospect of being kept alive by a machine is a real and frightening one. People are asking themselves more and more what they can do to ensure a humane and dignified death”
So pregnant the heart with pain, when a mother, your mother, calls “son, water” and you know the limpid sucking of water from a pink sponge absorbing a painful water from a plastic cup, that you must apply to her drying lips, will trigger a spasm of dimensionless pain, hasten, the next step in ‘management’ from the needle, the end, your sorrow. This is what happens when a Mother dies and you are not sure where she is going, and there is not a thing you can do to stop it, as pain grips her and fear grips you, as death grips both, whilst love keeps you alert to all three. Then, you seek to flee all understanding, and responsibility, only to remain. And so the breath shortens: yours and hers. And now there are others here, who love her, love you, love life, want her to live, some more, with us, come home with us, come home to us. But inevitably, inexorably as the clock ticks and the atmosphere thickens you know suddenly it is time, her time, the time as a husband, your father, arrives, to witness her sweetest breath, one last breath shared with him witnessed by you, loved by sisters and a brother, and the ending of a sixty year love affair.
“Death devours all lovely things”
(Millay, Edna St Vincent)
Her eyes dilate to a new dimension and there is calm, and, before you leave her others who loved her must, will come and kiss her, as she is still warm, still smelling sweetly, still with the snow drift of hair, still your mum, their sister, auntie, friend, your memories, as their pearling sounds hang on the string of her death. And, so you wait with them but your pain doesn’t wait, and doesn’t equate with their limpid words, and it, pain inscribes its reasoning throughout your unreasoning mind, and unreasonable heart, that knows, but cannot, will not, accept death as finality. One had hoped then, that she as a snow flake would melt into God’s warm hand.
“Despise no man and consider nothing impossible,
for there is no man who does not have his hour and
there is no thing that does not have its place.”
She hasn’t gone quite yet, so you linger, as your heart hovers sometimes in stasis, and you tell her you love her in quiet disbelief and stroke her hair and kiss again and again, her tear spotted face wet with love from your tear dropping eyes.
Now you must leave, as she is leaving you and you are not sure to where, but your silence and hers and the room’s, and God’s, and the tears, oh so many tears, sting you as your heart sears you as gathering resonating ‘strings’ of thoughts that have fragmented, have flown to many places like shocked birds, return to a shocked heart. In you, for days, were inconsistencies, that now cohere suddenly, flatten your senses, you say then to no one in particular, blinded by tears “so this is what happens when a Mother dies … and your mother is all mothers”. So what are we, you, going to do for other mothers, all other mothers, as the day turns and they turn, those thoughts, toward love and its lack, in small hospitals, in small towns, and here in a small country or anywhere in the world. I will write again, because you and I will cry again because another Mother somewhere will die again, as the Earth turns and dies too.
“Death means only a change of garment.
What of it? Thus fight!
You gain nothing by becoming cowards …
Taking a step backwards, you do not avoid any misfortune.
You have cried to all the gods
in the world. Has misery ceased?”
Clive Hambidge is Human Development Director at Facilitate Global. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .