Last night I was doing a thing in Larne with some other writers, and we got talking about blogs. I’ve come to hate blogs. 21st century brain vomit. So naturally 12 hours later I’m standing over my sink thinking about my blog. Must be a Sunday morning thing.
Some blogs are the same shit, rinse and repeat. Benevolent word-insanity, an exercise in writing, inflicted on us while a writer searches for their voice. Fuckin useful but fuckin yawn. So anyway I get thinking about blogging’s reason for being, and I reach a simple conclusion: it helps mortals deal with shit. Yay! Now that I’ve solved everything, while insulting every blogger ever, here’s my shitty blog about dealing with shit:
My mum died a month ago. Cancer.
People said at the time I seemed to be dealing with it remarkably well. A little too well… “It’ll hit him” someone said. I’m still waiting for the hit. Granted it’s only been a month and in that time I’ve held Mum’s dead hand while it cooled and stiffened, picked out her coffin, helped organise the funeral, paid for it, collected her ashes, wiped her bank account, got hold of her passwords, cleared out her house (gathering armfuls of knickers and bras from a drawer and stuffing them into a bin liner) notified the Canadians and Brits about cancelling her pensions, cancelled her mobile, landline and internet, notified the estate agent, and even left the bins out… I’ve written tributes, letters, and thanked people… Mum left us so fast I never got her final wishes in writing, but whatever I could remember, I made sure it got done. I’ve even got her cat, Bella, the shut-in who lives in a cupboard. To be fair to friends and family, I didn’t do it all completely alone, but I don’t think I’ve left anything solely to anyone else. Why? Because it’s my shit to deal with.
“It’ll hit him.”
What’s left? I already know I’ve lost the only other person with intimate memories of our life together in Toronto, when Mum was a single mum. It all rests with me now. Her husband, my stepfather died in 2012. That life we all lived together rests with me now. I already know she ain’t coming back. No one’s coming back. From the moment the phone rang and I heard Mum’s shaken voice – “I have cancer” – I’ve been dealing. Right then I knew I had to spend as much time with her as I could, because – and I told her – “You only get one shot at this.” She was so grateful, and so proud of me, and that makes me beam with pride. It brings a fuckin tear to my eye, but let’s not stop yet.
“It’ll hit him.” I have a collection of my own life-regrets. There’s so much I would do differently, but when it comes to Mum’s final two months, I have very few. I know I did good by her. I suppose I could’ve done a little bit more, but I’d say that no matter how much I exhausted myself. I didn’t quit my job entirely, but I cancelled my involvement in tours because I know time is precious. We thought she had a year. Then we thought she had 18 months. In the end she had two months, and holy shit, when I think how fast they went, my head spins, but I know I did it right. I dealt with shit as it happened, so when the Big It happened, there wasn’t as much to process.
Throughout, Mum tried her best to remain positive – you have to. She was hopeful for a miracle turnaround. We both agreed “It can happen” but really on the inside I trusted the doctors. The outlook was bleak, and that was that. The day before Mum died I made sure the doctors knew I understood them. I said something like “Just so we’re clear here – Mum’s not leaving here alive, is she.” A silent yet resounding No.
Have I dealt with Mum’s death? Has it hit me yet? I don’t think people know what that means. We’re pretty clueless about life. We just make shit up as we go along, and that was the key for me – just try to keep up. I saw Mum waste away, day by day. Nearing the end, I was exhausted after two nights sleeping in a hospital chair by her bed. (Thank fuck it reclined a little.) So… four hours before she died she was pretty much unconscious, breathing automatically. Doctors say these things can drag on, or they can be quick. I needed to get away. I kissed Mum’s cheek and whispered in her ear “Love you Mum. Always.” And I left the hospital in tears, feeling pretty sure that was the last time I’d see her alive. It was.
Four hours later Elaine phones me: “She’s gone.” I race back to the hospital, almost kicking myself for being away, but to be fair, you just never know when it’s going to happen. So anyway there’s Mum, lying still in bed. Deathly still for real. She didn’t look any different from four hours ago. It wasn’t shocking. She was still warm. I believe that just because your body is dead doesn’t mean your consciousness is gone, so I asked “Are you still in there Mum?” and I apologised for leaving her, but inside I allowed for this: maybe my leaving was a sign for her to leave, to check out for real. Who knows.
An hour or so later, surprise surprise, she’s still dead. And she still doesn’t look any different. To be honest, the shit thing is she doesn’t even look peaceful. Anyway, we had to wait around for a doctor to sign something before we could go. But there was tea and biscuits, and family, and even a few laughs. My uncle Tim is someone you want around in times like this. And Elaine is the best thing that ever happened to me (as if a person can themself be an event, but I’m digressing). So now it’s around 10pm, or 11, I can’t remember, but at last it’s time to go. For real. I had one final moment with Mum. Her arm was cooler now, and it had begun to stiffen. Oh, she’s gone alright. But just in case, I told her one last time that I’ll love her always.
Absolutely none of this was shocking. Why? Because in her final two months I was there for her, as much as I could be, as much as I could take, and I saw it all happening incrementally.
“It’ll hit him.” Maybe. Dunno.
In my cynical fuck-the-world sort of way (and definitely fuck blogs) I refuse to deal with this the way I’m supposed to. This is my zero-fuck time, to not give a shit what people think. For many years I’ve said “Death affects everyone in different and unique ways” and I’ve bit my tongue, been polite, and put up with various shades of peopleshit. But now I get to be that guy – Frank “hey your Mom’s dead” Sinatra – doing it my way. Yeah I’m sad, pretty much torn apart, anxious and depressed, occasionally irrational, but does the world need to feel closure on my behalf? Does it deserve to feel satisfied that I’ve come to terms on someone else’s terms? Fuck. That. If the world feels like I haven’t dealt with Mum’s death… Well I guess the world is going to have to deal with that discomfort. Does the world want some suggestions? Probably not.
I have a shit blog. Yours is one of my favourites. Powerful piece Leif
Thanks Nic. You’re a good egg, don’t put yourself down.
Thank you for sharing. And I’m sorry for your loss. My mum has terminal cancer and I’m on the in the hoping for the best but knowing it can’t happen stage. It’s a very hard place to be.
So sorry to hear. Yeah it’s rough. You probably know this already, but look after yourself too.
It’s clear how much you loved your mum and how connected the two of you were. Beautiful piece. Our brains process information in different ways, our thoughts and emotions go unbidden to random places. We all have our own journey. Go well.
Thank you Jacqui
My Dad died of cancer 2 months ago. Your words express what I feel and think, but I can’t say them out loud. I’m sorry for your loss.
Thanks, and I’m sorry right back at ya.
Beautiful, Leif. The fact that you recognise that there’s no such thing as a standard reaction to grief will really help you. There is no timeline, no designated moment you’re supposed to grieve and no set way of doing it. Also, having worked in hospice I know that so often a dying person will hang on til they’re on their own to die. I’m so pleased you’ve accepted that it was OK you weren’t there.
Thanks Bronagh, very kind of you
My Granddaughter, Ashley, was murdered about 6 weeks ago, she was just months away from finishing her degree in Medicine. Her estranged husband shot her to death in the middle of the night, jumped in his car and drove to California and killed his engineering Prof. at Stanford U. I lost her Mother 4 yrs ago to illness and that was and is awful, but this makes me really angry and sad, I will never ever get over it. for the details. I can’t get the picture of her being shot and wondering why out of my mind. I loved her so much and looked forward to her career as a Doctor. I will add that the Prof. at Stanford left a wife and two young boys.
A woman reporter called from California, I guess just to tell me that no one had claimed his body!
Jesus, that’s just… no words really. My heart goes out to you Jean.
So sorry for your loss. You were there for your mum and you have no regrets. My dad died of lung cancer one month ago; thankfully it was expected and my brother and I were there for him. ❤
Thanks Susan, glad you have at least some peace of mind.
My mother died 16 years ago. It hasn’t “hit me yet” so I doubt it ever will. My dad has been gone 18 years. It “hit me” the day he died and I still miss him everyday. I would guess it depends on the relationship. Nice post. My sympathy.
Thanks. And thank you for the insight.
My Dad died quite unexpectedly a few months ago. His one big fear in life was dying alone, which he did. I was on my way to be with him, so it was hard at the time. But I can’t blame myself for anything…. it wasn’t my fault. It hits me off and on, sometimes at the most unexpected times (like putting out the trash – what’s that all about?) My Mum has Alzheimer’s Disease, so I know she’s going, and so I think it won’t hit me……. but who knows? I think it’s wonderful, and I hope comforting, that you are able to share your thoughts and feelings here so truthfully and eloquently. I’m thinking of you.
Hi Joy. Jeez that’s rough. But like you say, how is anyone supposed to know? Thanks
My mother died from cancer 9 years ago. I was her sole caregiver in her home for many months until my brother came to give me a break 2 days before she died. I was not with her when this happened.
My father-in-law died of cancer 19 years ago. My husband was his caregiver at his home for a month before he died.
It has never ‘hit either one of us’. Maybe it is because they we so loved by both of us and they continue to be with us so often in our thoughts. Little daily activities all of a sudden trigger a ‘he or she would know how to do this’ or ‘he or she taught us to do it this way’. They are greatly missed but are with us always.
You are a good son and did your mother proud.
My deepest, heartfelt condolences on your loss.
Thank you Mary. I admit I’m still getting used to the idea that she’s not around anymore. Funny, she was the ONLY person who phoned our landline – apart from wrong numbers, and telemarketers. Now when it rings I know it’s a robot or someone looking for pizza. But still… that first ring reminds me of her. Ah well.
Your mum looks cool as fuck.
Yeah she was.