Defining goodbye

Twenty five years ago today, I sat in my mother’s room at the hospice, holding her hand as the clock ticked down her final hours. This is a vigil that many will keep but this is my blog so this is my story.

Being the only child of a single parent defined my life and continues to do so even though I am now just an only child full stop. Perhaps this is why I write. Once I die, my mother’s stories and mine will both be completed. I feel the overwhelming responsibility of this although I feel honoured too.

Twenty five years ago. It seems longer somehow. My mother died from lung cancer, a disease we both knew she would get given her smoking. I don’t say this lightly. My mother smoked 3 to 4 packs of cigarettes a day for over thirty years. Think about that. Unfiltered cigarettes. They were bound to take their toll. I got upset with her about her smoking very rarely. If I remember correctly, only twice did I raise the issue. It doesn’t matter now and it didn’t matter then. Her smoking was a fact of life. We all have something we wish we could change, don’t we?

From her diagnosis to her death was a span of 6 months. She went for treatment to ease the symptoms but she was so frightened of the radiation, I had to go with her and stand immediately outside the door. She was very upset they wouldn’t let me in the room when she had her bronchoscopy. That day I became the adult.  The doctor came out of the surgery room and sat down beside me on the bench in the corridor. He told me that he hadn’t been able to finish the test because it had been too traumatic for her, but that he’d seen how large the tumour was. He knew it was cancer, inoperable and that she had only about six months to live. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the wood grain of that bench. I couldn’t look up into the doctor’s eyes. I wondered how many relatives had received such news while sitting there. It was terrible knowledge to have before my mom had it herself.

The hospice was five months later, after one stay in a regular hospital ward and two stays in the hospital palliative care unit. Luckily at the time, I worked at that hospital. It was easier to have her there because I visited her before I went into work, I went over to see her at lunch. After work, I went to back to her hospital room and stayed until well after visiting hours were over. Many times she was sleeping for the majority of the time I was there. But there I sat. I sat and made lists of things to do like giving notice at her apartment, moving her belongings, making phone calls to her friends. I love the friends that visited her. Her elementary school friend, now they were both in their 60s, brought her mauve flowers (my mom’s favourite colour) and a mango. My mother had never eaten a mango, so her dear, dear friend sliced it up and fed it to her. It was such a comforting, loving gesture. I shall never forget it.

The hospice was a few miles away but relatively close to where I lived. It was as homey an atmosphere as they could make a small facility. There was a communal table where the residents ate dinner, with their guests if they had any.  It was usually soup and my mom, not always being in the present (dementia set in due to a lack of oxygen) would sometimes need help eating it. She let me feed her but I could tell that she often didn’t know who I was. Her eyes were glassy. Time was running short.

For me, the thing I remember about the hospice was that they had a package of flavoured tea. I drank all the orange spice. The scent of that tea always takes me back to standing in the hospice kitchen while another doctor quietly gave me the news that my mom would die in a few days. Three days later, she did.

I was holding my mom’s hand when she passed away. Her breathing by then was so laborious, intermittent, with long pauses between each gaspy rattle. I watched as the pauses became longer.

When she died, I felt my mom leave.  Her spirit lifted up and went away. I cannot describe it any other way. I called out quietly for the nurse on duty. Yes, she said after checking her. Your mom is gone.

I didn’t cry immediately. I felt dizzy. I had cried a lot before and I cried a lot later. But at the time…

So, yes. 25 years ago. Long, long ago.

E.E. Cummings’s words, though written for a different kind of love and a different kind of situation, express best this defining goodbye – how I feel, how I felt then, my great responsibility, my great honour.

I continue this journey for the both of us now, and will until my own last laboured breath:

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Winnow

In the warm cocoon of a calm childhood, sleep descended, downy soft
Air inhaled-exhaled easily, soft skin on crisp cotton sheets
Bright, crayon-box dreams were standard production of cosy nights for years.

But frights found their way through unfamiliar movement, harsh words
Whisper hissed behind doors quickly-tightly shut
Secrets came-in-went-out through the kitchen door, heavy footsteps fading, leaving.

Cold shivers replaced blankets as your night cover
No rounded thoughts or multi-worded sentences were shared
The most important detail of your life story spoken casually, chosen carelessly, by another.

And no matter which way you turned your ear to the pillow, you couldn’t ever hear it.

**a poem I’ve written and re-written. I keep wanting to improve it because the subject matter is so personal. This is the April 2017 version. **

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Place

When the car turned off the smooth highway pavement, its tires met dry dirt and sun-heated gravel: a winding, country, almost-road with bumps, lumps and potholes. Necessarily, her uncle had to brake, gear down, and slow the station wagon’s speed. In the trunk, luggage and boxed groceries rattled in anticipation of tipping.

This was Jane’s favourite part of the annual journey to the lake. The smell of dusty red earth billowed up to her as she turned to face the view out the open side window. At this leisurely speed, Jane could see the surroundings crystal clearly. She saw every speckled rock, every brightly coloured flower tipping towards the sun, every tall, toasted grass in movement with the breeze caused by their wagon driving past.

What if they hadn’t ventured up to the cabin this late August, Jane wondered. What if those flowers and grasses had been given time and room to just be still? Would nature in all its forms have waited another summer for Jane and her family? Or would the dried and crumbly flora have wandered off, in search of water and adventure in the nearby mossy forest?

dirt road

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Class Action on Kindle Countdown

Chris James's blog

(Psst: today’s the day when it’s cheapest 🙂 $0.99 in the US; £0.99 in the UK)

cakindlecover“A unique fusion of court-room drama, international conspiracy and science fiction. In 2032, young litigator Alek Moreyl is sucked into a frightening world of terrorism as one new technological breakthrough wreaks havoc on society.
Many authors can write future dystopias, but only Chris James can imagine how the world gets from here to there. And as with every Chris James novel, it’s a story that will not only entertain and provoke you, but also a story the like of which you are guaranteed never to have read anywhere else before.” – J. Teal, Vancouver

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Particulate

It takes all my strength to close the bedroom window with a dignified, deliberate movement. I want to make noise. I want to slam the window shut, shatter the glass, scream through the fractured pane, shove my arm into the opening and watch as jagged edges slice into my skin and draw bright red blood.

“I’ve got to go now, babe. He’s expecting me to be home at five-thirty so we can take the kids to the movies.”

“Call me on Friday, Susan? I miss you when we go too long without …” I can’t finish my sentence. And anyway, she knows what I want. She knows far too well that her presence in my paper bag life has replaced the bumps of coke that used to push me through these endless nights.

She leaves me again, her shadow disappears down the hall and out the door. I’m left alone in bed to wonder why I wait for her return. What part of me cannot exist without wanting someone this much? Is it my heart, my brain, my DNA?

I light a cigarette. The first heady drag of biting smoke burns deep into my lungs but I continue to puff until my throat feels as ragged and itchy as the thoughts in my head.

smoke

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Getting back on schedule

I’m pleased to be back online with a new writing blog.  I will be posting regularly from now on; content will be a combination of fiction and non-fiction writing, and there will be at least 2 posts a week (though not always on the same day a week).

Thank you for visiting!

Passive

You run your index finger up along the smartphone’s screen, focused on finding tweets to which you should reply. Social media demands only short bursts of attention from you. Thirty seconds of passive interaction seem possible this Sunday.

Then a photo, the photo, rises on the news feed. You’re startled, yet it still takes you a moment to realize the pale skin and grim countenance form a familiar face.

His red-rimmed eyes stare deadened from the police camera’s harshly lit capture. Are his eyes red because he wept? Were his tears released by regret, or fear, or anger?

You turn the phone off – leave it turned upside down on the kitchen table.

Later, you won’t remember the words you now search for in the morning newspaper’s pages. The headline’s inky black, funereal print leaves gravity on your hands.  You clutch the paper. Tangible. Proof.

As you read, your stomach hollows except for the push pull of twisting knots. Your chest tightens until suddenly your body forces a gasp, a reminder to take in oxygen.

It will be many days before you don’t need those reminders to breathe.