My mother and father are both dying, one of cancer and the other of bitterness. They got divorced when I was five, and even though I am an adult now with kids of my own, I have yet to get to the root of their separation, to the meat of the contention.
Somehow, I am caught between the two of them. There is Mum with her soft words and her longing for reconciliation, and then there is Dad’s harsh words and frightful anger. And now, to further muddle the puddle, Mum’s terminal illness.
“Tina,” She calls feebly. Her face is devoid of colour, as white as her hair is, almost as white as the cool hospital sheets she rests on, “It won’t be long.”
I lean closer, noting for the first time that Mum’s favorite music is playing. She begs the nurses to play it every morning, and because her life’s requests and pleasures are very few now, they oblige her.
“It won’t be long.” She says again, exerting energy she doesn’t have, going on despite the strain, “My strength won’t hold out much longer”.
“Don’t say that.” The words automatically spring to my lips. In my head, I know she is dying. In my heart, I almost cannot accept it.
We are close but haven’t been for long. I lived with a paternal aunt after the divorce and was reunited with my mother when I was sixteen. I had brought resentment, anger and rebellion into our mother-daughter relationship, wondering why she hadn’t been my primary care giver when I was a child. The angst was too great to live under and I ran away when I was eighteen. I resurfaced, lived with dad awhile, ran away again, then returned home to Mum with a husband and daughter in tow.
Her arms had been wide open – open enough for the three of us. Open enough for me to learn how to love her. Open enough for me to hurt crazily when she dies.
“Tina, don’t fight it. I hardly can wait…” She gives in to a spasm of cough. Phlegm mixed with blood drip out of the side of her mouth.
There is a strong smell of death in the air.
“Mum, are you okay?”
She sighs. “I am not. Feels like I’m being eaten alive from inside…” She forces a smile, “but I will soon be out of the pain. Tina…your father?”
I know where her question will lead, so I answer quickly. “Still the same.”
Her eyes cloud over and I see anxiety there. “I wronged him once…I wronged him, Tina. But I begged for his forgiveness. I begged God too. God forgave me but James hasn’t…” Another racking cough and more blood and spittle.
“Mum, stop!” I shout, willing this frail woman to live, willing to pay any price for her life, yet knowing it was only a matter of time before death pulled the curtains.
“You need to tell him, Tina. He must forgive me…for his sake. I’ve made my peace with God and I’m ready…I’m ready to go meet him. Your father is not ready…tell him…”
I know she’s right. I know this without saying, because my parents are as different as day and night. But my mission now is to calm Mum; and to calm the wild galloping of my heart.
“It’s okay, Mum. You need to rest.”
“Tell him, honey.” And with that, she rests back, sighs and closes her eyes.
I breathe an audible sigh of relief, feeling my heart begin to return to a normal beat now that she is resting.
I must have fallen asleep as well because the sound of the heart monitor wakes me, bearing the sound of the imminent.
“No.” I console myself. “It’s just a false alarm.” But I know it’s not. She’s resting calmly but even before I reach out my hand to touch her, I know she’s dead.
My eyes water with tears and the impulse to run out of the room seizes me by force. I sit awhile, forcing myself to see Mum as she had been a long time ago rather than the carcass she’d been for a year. She had been incredibly strong, and it’s my turn to be strong now.
I walk unhurriedly out of the room to the nurses’ room.
“My mother’s gone.” I whisper, afraid saying it too loud would dissolve me into a puddle of tears. I am not prepared to weep now. I will wait for the sanctuary of my room, for the solitude of my home.
The nurses, all-efficient, rise at once, pity in their eyes.
“I’m sorry.” One of them offers.
“It’s all right…” I start to say, but stop as I sight my husband running into the room. He is not properly dressed, and I wonder for a brief moment how he could have known that Mum was dead, so soon. Were we telepathic? Could he read my mind from several kilometres away?
“Tina…” he stops running when he sees me. Now that he’s up close, I can smell he’s brought bad news.
“I don’t want to hear it.” I hold out my hand. “Not now. Not yet.”
“But you must. I’ve been trying to reach you on your mobile. Tina…”
I move close to him, wrapping my arms around him. Whatever he has to say, I need his strength.
“It’s your dad, honey…your aunt called me. Tina…” He hugs me tighter.
I hold my breath, waiting, weeping on my inside.
“Tina…He’s dead. He…shot himself.”