Ron Mueck is an Australian hyperrealist sculptor he started as a model maker and puppeteer for children’s television and films. I saw his sculptor, ‘Dead Dad’, a few years ago and it stayed with me.
It’s a tiny version of his father, naked, lying on the floor. A life reduced. A life curled up and utterly vulnerable. A life, however it was lived, honoured in silicone and seen by thousands of people walking round it, over it, past it. Discussing it, criticising it, crying over it – but at least acknowledging it.
I have spent the last three days struggling with my mothers life. 88 years old and coming to an end.
She is not overly unhappy but she is forgetful and anxious. She likes the company of the other three women in her hospital ward. She likes the food, complaining that there was far too much of it as she forked in yet another mouthful of chicken and carrots – good for the eyes she remembered – she wants to see her son but is still mindful that he lost his wife too recently for her to make demands.
She is lying in her hospital bed as small as Mueck’s father but as large as life.
How long she will be in the hospital is anybodies guess.
‘Get used to the inside of your car ‘ said Ursula.
Well I have B’s music and Stevie Wonder not to mention Bruchner’s Fifth which I am buying tomorrow.
I have packed my bag with oat cakes and remedies so that I can jump at any moment. I have charged my phone and been given a little black notebook so that I can keep tabs on everything, because right now folks, I don’t know what friggin day it is.
I have shouted at doctors, made lists, apologised to medical secretaries and snapped at visiting care workers.
I am old enough to know better but am only, ever, in this scenario, the daughter of my mum. Watching her shrink, like Ron’s dad, watching her untie the apron strings. Watching her cheeks go from cream to pink with the help of some crazy drugs they are feeding her. They injected her whilst she was eating. She found it funny; ‘I didn’t even feel it’ she giggled. I thought it undignified and rude.
Time takes on a different quality. Driving endlessly, sitting in traffic jams, sitting on hospital furniture – blue, plastic armchairs that hurrumph when you sit in them. Declining the hospital food, returning the melted ice-cream. Watching my mother eat, her hands shaking from the medication. Not trusting the practice but having to trust the practitioners. I am not a doctor I do not know about coagulants, anti-depressants, mini strokes. I am the daughter who wants answers from a flock of folk who are too frightened to predict and too handcuffed to reveal.
The smell of old age, the crumbs of a life on a threadbare carpet. My mother is worried about what will happen to her furniture if she goes into home. What will happen to her plants, her books, her photographs. My old mum is worried about having her life shrink wrapped into one room having spent 88 years, nearly 89 as she keeps telling me, adding to her life.
And all I can do is sit by and patiently wait for assessments and packages. , I have to hold my tongue and resist pushing. I have to forgive myself for my irritation and her for getting old and reminding me that life is not finite. I have to forgive the obese nurse for being underpaid and overwhelmed. I have to forgive the Doctor who has to do his sums now as well as his rounds. I have to forgive the Psychiatrist who wanted to help but couldn’t, her case load too weighty for her slouched shoulders.
Having to be the load bearer is part of the price of being the daughter. I expect I shall expect the same of mine. But the guilt that comes attached to the decision making process is stomach churning. Have I set my mother on the course of her death because I called in the doctors and assessors, should I have just left her to it so she could have died naturally. Should I have made a better career so that we had a granny flat and a private nurse. should I have married well. Should I have – well the list goes on doesn’t it? The ‘should haves’ and ‘what ifs’, when actually all I want is to turn the clock back and have her playing the piano so that I could sing in harmony with her.
It aint gonna happen and I have to forgive the process of life too. After all none of us ever gets out alive however much we try.