None of us get out alive

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.

8 thoughts on “None of us get out alive”

  1. Jeni you have to remember that wrapped up in that guilt of yours …..
    Is integrity, honour & the most important LOVE.
    Your Mum knows what you are doing for her, even if her mortal shell appears not to…
    She is where she needs to be….

  2. Jeni you move me more than I can say – you put into words exactly how I felt six years ago with my mom, so overwhelmed that I couldn’t write last night. You know that we all want to put our arms around you and hug, and as usual Christian is so right….

  3. Jeni, Once again you share with us the most tender things in your life. Your Mum….you have given her such love do not feel guilty you could have done no more. As for saying should you have married well…you did do not ever doubt your marriage, I would remove that part before ooosband sees it! What will happen to her bits and pieces? that is for you and your brother to decide, but be sure to keep any old photos papers etc for future generations who one day may wish to research their ancestry.(so says one who spends days and nights researching her ooosbands ancestry) Oh if only people would put names and dates on the back of photographs things may be easier. Ohhh there I go off on the wrong track. All I can do is send you a massive cyber hug and love to you and yours. xxhugxx

  4. Ah Jeni bless you and your writing, it’s refreshing to hear. I’m thinking of you & your mum. Mums & daughters such a complex relationship and as we weave through it it’s good to share our experiences and learn from each other. As I read I thought of my mum. Ageing but not yet elderly, I have lessons to learn and as time passes I will have to make decisions just as you have. With your big warm heart your mum will know she’s loved. Just as I hope mine will. Thankyou for this post. Cx

  5. Jeni … the whole process you and your mother are going through is life. The body adapts. No point in shouting at the doctors and being rude and calling the nurse obese. This is what happens. Spend your excess energy into time with your mum. If you are unhappy with the docs and nurses go elsewhere and open your purse and pay for those docs and nurses to say the right things. The things you wish to hear. The outcome WILL BE THE SAME.
    By the way … I was a NHS nurse for 27 years. I know what I am talking about. By the way …. I am a size 12.
    I also see may obese presenters.

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