I read this incredibly moving piece today by Biko Zulu http://bikozulu.co.ke/today-my-mom-will-die/
It made me think how my love for my mother has transformed over the years.
From the pure adulatory love of a little me slipping my tiny feet into her silver strappy cocktail sandals, to the grudging love of my rebellious teenage brattish years, into the grateful love at having a mother who has always encouraged me to be an undiluted me.
Then something fundamentally changed.
It happened just over three years ago. My grandfather’s body started losing the decade long battle with cancer. He spent months on end at the hospital. He hated it there. Said the ghosts of the dead wandered in and out of the rooms, disturbing his sleep. Still, he bore it stoically, never with complaint, always with a steely determination to fight.
We knew the hospital well by then, our family taking it in turns to be by his side, trying to suck away the suffocating loneliness of the hospital room. My sister and I stayed the nights with him, alternating between the chair and floor, padding about in our pyjamas, coins jingling in our pockets to shake coffee out of the vending machine, or to seek solitude in the corners of the hospital where we could hide from the tangle of despair, helplessness and anxiety.
We were there a long time.
Then they took him into ICU.
We moved camp to the waiting room, rolling up shawls to rest our heads on, curling up into little balls in the hard backed chairs, rosaries in hand, pleading with the nurses to allow us in, so we could stand by his bed for a few minutes to just whisper in his ear, and touch his fragile hand.
The nights offered a quiet comfort. As soon as 5am hit, hospital staff and patients would begin pouring in, a constant chattering stream, obediently stopping to sanitize their hands…always stopping to sanitise their hands.
The daytime was always harder. An affront. How dare the world continue whilst Bapa was slipping away? By that point, he had stopped responding, had already started to pull aside the gossamer veil separating this world and the hereafter.
The next time we saw him, his eyes were already looking past this realm, into the next. My mum and I, hands clutching looked at each other and silently agreed. We started praying. A different sort of prayer. A prayer for him to be taken.
We prayed constantly and feverishly with a single-minded desperation.
I don’t think it really hit me then. What it must be like to pray for your father to be taken away.
Then on the morning of April 1st 2011, they wheeled him out of ICU back to his room, plugged into all sort of machinery. We had forced my mum and grandma to go home and get some sleep, and so it was just my aunts, my sister and I there, when the doctor took us out of the room. We already knew what he was going to say.
It is only a matter of time now.
We called my mum and grandma and went back in the room. What do you say to a loved one when you are granted the bitter-sweet gift of saying goodbye to them forever?
We held him, and held each other.
There are never enough words at a moment like this. Only prayer.
Within minutes, his pulse rate started dropping and in a panicked state, we called my mum, urging her to hurry. She asked to speak to Bapa.
I held the phone to his ear, and his pulse rate picked up again, a smile struggling to the surface of his face, the first sign of recognition we had seen in days. I could not hear what she was saying, but hung up when her voice faded.
Seconds later, his soul slipped out of his body, like a sigh escaping his lips.
At that moment, my mum battling traffic, tears pouring down her face, hands gripping the steering wheel was frantically trying to make her way to the hospital.
We said the final prayers, and closed his eyes.
The nurses unplugged the machines and took them out.
Fifteen minutes later, I heard the sound of anguish from the corridoor, a sound that will forever be pierced into the memory of my heart.
I told you to wait for me, she sobbed.
My mum rushing down the hallway, had seen the machines outside the door, and instantly knew.
I told you to wait for me.
She entered the room, and fell apart.
At that moment, my love for her changed fundamentally.
She was a child who had lost her father, and her world was being ripped apart in front of my eyes.
Seeing someone you love in pain, is infinitely worse than any pain you can feel.
To see your mother in this, the most vulnerable of states, changes you forever. That space in her heart that had been filled with unconditional love from her father was now empty. You vow to fill that space, every minute, every moment. Suffocate her with love. Suffuse her with it. Because it hits you just how much you love her, and that you never want to see her suffer.
You realise that visceral anguish of losing a parent, it will be yours one day too.
So you love her more more fiercely than you knew how. Everyday.