Monday, April 25, 2016

In Memory of My Mother: Rest in Peace Patricia Dolores Stewart

25 April 2016. It was my mother's birthday two days ago. She died almost two years ago. I still miss her. I wrote the passage below just after her death.

"28 June 2014. McGregor, Western Cape

It’s a quarter to six in the morning. Dark still, cold outside. An optimistic cock crows. It’s been calling out to dawn since about four o’clock. I’ve been awake since three to the sound of rain and water rushing along the laywater channels that run through town. Then the rain stopped.

I tried to go back to sleep. Some part of my body wanted to. But every other part of me didn’t. I got out of bed, wrapped myself up in a blanket; opened the door to the dark and the cold. Icy. It was beautiful, the world so still. The sky cleared for a minute. The stars looked close enough to touch. Glistening. Somehow it hurt to look at them.

It’s six minutes past six. This time eight days ago my mother had forty minutes left to live. I wanted to be with her when her body stopped and I was. I wanted to be touching her when her spirit flew away and I was.

But what was I expecting? That I could go with her to make sure she was okay, that she wasn’t alone in the dark and the cold nothingness. That I could be in conversation with God, whoever or whatever God is, and say “you take her now and look after her”. That it would go in slow motion and I’d have time to say goodbye over and over again. That there’d be some consolation for me in it.

It didn’t happen like that. Life seems to be full of wanting things without realizing it. Pinning everything on them without knowing you’re doing it. Then one day the truth hits you like a blow in your solar plexis.

But life is also full of chances to repair what seemed irreparable and to heal relationships that seemed destined to be torn apart for eternity. I know because it happened for me after a lifetime of trying to connect with her and failing because of all the pain and anger between us. I came towards her in a time of great need as if I was the mother and she the child and this time she not only let me in, she was aware of what my love meant to her. And could express her awareness and return it in ways that healed wounds for me going back to before I could speak and, maybe strangely maybe not, healed wounds for her going back to when she was a tiny child. Life is full of miracles. In these last three years, as she’s been very slowly slipping away from life we've been getting closer and closer.

I dreaded the finality. How many times have I driven away from the home she was in feeling like my heart was exploding into shards of glass. And now it’s happened.

I was sitting at the desk in her room, typing out something I read of hers that she wrote. I’d been awake since four. She started breathing faster. I got up and sat with her, stroked her forehead, told her I loved her over and over. She calmed down and her breathing was normal again. I thought she was going to be okay, that she would make it through at least one more night. So I didn’t call my brother and sister. An hour later I just got up and sat with her again, unaware of what was prompting me. I stroked her forehead, leaned down and said I love you Mom. She took a little breath and let it out and that’s when her spirit flew away.

But I wasn’t even sure if it had. I couldn’t tell at first. I’d always thought I’d know what to do. But I didn’t. I thought I’d know where she’d gone. But I don’t. I thought I’d be able to feel her still. But I can’t. Not yet.

And now, sitting in the dark, in a room in the small town she lived in, I realize the truth of something else I wanted with every bit of my being. I wanted her to be in conversation with God and to take my hand and say to him “you look after Jennifer now and if you don’t do it well you’ll have me to answer to” and I wanted her to hold me and tell me she loved me one more time and say “darling I don’t want to but I have to leave you. I’ll always be with you, though, never forget that.”

I wanted her to leave some part of herself with me even while she died, to make sure I’d be okay. But it didn’t happen that way. She’d been closing down one tiny little bit at a time for a long time. So when I said I love you that last time, she had no way of showing me she heard me, she had no way of telling me anything at all.

Now at times everything I look at, everything I touch, everything I do, it hurts. I feel bludgeoned, lost and abandoned. I can’t hear her, I can’t feel her. Death is a freight train.

Everybody says she’s not at all alone, she’s with God, or with my father and oldest sister, or with whoever she needs to be with, that all her challenges are over, that she’s at peace. Their words bounce off me. Intellectually I know they’re right and I feel their kindness but I wish they’d stop saying things like that. I’m not ready to be consoled. I don’t want consolation. I don’t mind the pain.

It’s six forty-six in the morning. Eight days ago my mother’s body stopped and her spirit flew to some place I can’t go."