One of Life’s big hurdles came along a week ago, tossing me upside down and playing havoc with emotions and equilibrium . . . AND making me an orphan.
Only three and a half years have passed since it last happened, when my Dad – waiting for the coffee Mum was making – fell back on the bed and his life here stopped. The shock of seeing him lifted out of his house and carried away was only the beginning of what has proven to be the steep mountain range of the land that was my life until then. Compared to those slopes, all the previous years have been along rolling hills, beside babbling brooks – admittedly slowly climbing upward – but the foothills of that range have been approached for some time now.
The last few years have been a steep and steady ascent, with few level places, into the mountains, whose peaks seem to disappear into the clouds ahead.
We’ve clambered the slope of Mount Clear-the-House, which stretched previously untried muscles and relationships. At its peak is the Sort-Stuff plain, and the troughs of despair and decision.
There was a brief respite on a gentle downhill undulation called ‘Mum-Moves-To-Retirement-Village’ and we all took a breather. Soon after, however, the ground levelled and started to climb, and we hit the boulders of ‘Mini-Stroke’ slip, and the inside of a hospital ward.
And from that moment on, it has been an unrelenting if gradual climb, past Mount Mum’s Shopping, Mount Caregivers, Mount You’re-the-parent-now.
I must move from this picture now, because it feels too flippant for the situation that so many like me have gone through, or will experience.
I am very aware that – compared to what others have gone through – my own double loss in recent years was remarkably light on pain and rich in grace. Still, the loss of my Mum at Auckland hospital on the day following her birthday (29 Jan, 2016) still has the power to flip me and cartwheel me like I’ve been caught in the surf at Piha beach.
In both instances my parents did not suffer. And I feel very relieved that Mum, who was always young at heart, no longer faces a bewildering future of being old and completely dependent on others. But I am surprised that the numb acceptance with which I got through last week leading up to her funeral, has given way to periods of heaviness and lack of motivation. Waking this morning, I felt as if I had a weight pressing on my chest, or as if my heart was filling a cavity too small for it. The blood seems to have drained from me and pooled somewhere in my abdomen, away from cheeks and lips, and conversely, water is never far from my eyes. I can’t be bothered cooking but I eat food put before me.
Behind me, in my small studio, are boxes, bags, and books of photos and mementos, all of which need sorting, distributing or casting out. Oh that someone would do it for me!
This week my brother and cousin crossed the ocean to be with us, and while they were here there was much laughter, endless talk, occasional tears. It’s the spaces in between, when I’m on my own and the big empty gap inside me where all that care for Mum once filled my thoughts and heart, leaves me almost gasping.
I took myself off to the Garden Centre for lunch today. Looking up, the table directly in front of me was an echo of my own situation in very recent years: A woman and her elderly Mum, enjoying their trip out to the gardens. As they sat in silence eating, and sharing small talk between them, I almost got up moved elsewhere.
And the thing is – I’m not depressed. I’m as full of hope, joy, peace and abundantly aware of grace as I ever was. I just need to breathe in and out, place one foot in front of the other, let the grief be felt and be glad that Mum is free and undiminished. I have no idea how long it will take to feel back on surer footing, but I am glad of the support of so many friends and family, and glad of the wonderful life of two people who were instrumental in bringing my own into being.
What a journey this is!