My mother’s death was not an event, but a long process; an unbearable agony. It was not a ‘sweet death’ but a slow, drawn out and cruel death.
We were at her bedside; holding her hand, speaking to her and sparing her the worst of possible suffering; that caused by loneliness or abandon. During her journey to infinity, my mother made clear her desire to depart this world quietly; to slip into a deep and comfortable sleep of no return. Her wish was not granted.
She pleaded with the nurses and the doctors to help her put an end to her suffering. Meanwhile her heart continued as best it could to resist against the odds, while her pulse fought to pump blood to what was left of her body.
Now, alongside the sadness and memories after her disappearance, I am grateful for the strength I found to accompany her through on this journey. Because throughout this nightmarish journey, she suffered enormously, mostly in silence.
And her situation went from bad to worse.
Towards the end she had to resign herself to the reality of one of her deep seated fears: becoming dependent on others in order to maintain her personal hygiene. No one can imagine the dread, the humiliation and the sheer horror which she must have gone through.
If there is a small consolation I can salvage, it is the fact that the darkest of her fears did not materialise: her mental faculties remained undamaged and her mind remained intact. Even when her last hours were approaching, she was able to communicate her thoughts in an astounding manner. As death was taking her by the hand, she to told us that she wanted to go; that she was at peace with herself. And we looked on, spellbound.
Of the many vivid mental pictures of my mother’s final days, there is one which I shall always remember. It is particularly beautiful and rich in meaning - almost indescribable. It is the image of her right hand, emaciated and diaphanous, holding a comb and brushing her hair. It was all that remained of her modesty, her self-awareness, her femininity.
Perhaps there is no such thing as a happy death, but hers was a sad death; extended without reason or purpose, by the failing of the medical establishment: the nurses, the orderlies and the doctors. The law has yet to define what constitutes a ‘quality of life’ and, consequently, the hospital environment cannot offer assistance to those who deem their lives devoid of quality.
Her face was contorted; her eyes hollow and her body skeletal. She was barely recognisable. My mother.
Who would believe that this body, ravaged by a virulent, pitiless cancer, is the same body which brought me into this world?
Seeing her embark on her final journey; being witness to her final hours on this blue planet of ours, was both a privilege and an act of closure.
The past disappeared in one fell swoop. What mattered was the present; the future had neither a role, nor a place. I felt a transformation; peace had descended. My mother was at peace with the world.
I see her still, breathing peacefully, her mouth gaping. I see the morphine working its way into her and, finally, easing her into a deep sleep where her pain disappears at the same time as her consciousness.
This woman, deep in a morphine-induced coma, is my mother.