Hi there, and thank you for taking the time to read my post.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to respond to my mom’s death. Losing my mom was something I couldn’t prepare for, even though I had tried. Usually I am the person others look to for direction and guidance, but I remember that moment at the end; when the doctor told us that our mom had only a few hours left. I kept asking myself, “What must I do?” and only emptiness responded.
I am the youngest of five children. I was my mom’s baby. I have four older, more ‘experienced-in-life’ siblings. It’s a safe haven for me. It’s home.
I am a mom to a team of three incredible little humans, and a wife to one of the strongest and most intelligent men that I have ever met. A healthy and balanced lifestyle has always been important to me. My mom was diagnosed with lung cancer in July 2015. She was a heavy smoker.
I missed the first call from my dad that day. I was in a meeting when I saw the missed call on my phone. It was strange, but I already knew that something was wrong. I immediately made the call and my dad answered after only one ring. He calmly explained that mom had cancer and that the doctors had given her a few months left to live. There was nothing they could do for her. Then he cried.
I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for him that day, to tell each of us, one at a time, that their mother was dying, and that he couldn’t save her. That same month they had celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary. I felt so guilty that I hadn’t answered his call but rather, that I was returning it. I didn’t speak to my mom on the phone, and when we said goodbye I sat in silence…
I arrived at my parents’ house about an hour after leaving my office. During the trip there I had thought about what I should say to my mom, but I couldn’t think of anything of substance. By the time I drove into the driveway I had concluded that there was nothing to say; words were useless. I was surprised to discover that she was on her own. My dad had gone back to his office already, and then I realised that she would have demanded that he go back to work, to keep things ‘normal’. My mother was not a woman you chose to argue with, that is, if you had the choice. Behind three entrance gates, she sat with her book, her cup of coffee and a cigarette in her hand. Being the absolute lady she was, a long elegant filter fluttered between her lips and the space under her delicate but oversized hat. This was her signature style: she loved big floppy hats with flowers perched on top. She loved strong coffee, no milk. She loved heavy, lose-yourself books. And she loved cigarettes. There may have even been a tot or two of brandy in that black coffee of hers!
She looked peaceful under that huge umbrella of coconut palm trees, sitting gently at her outside table, legs crossed on top of her chair. Us petite ladies can do that. I suppose at some point, we all wonder and agonise over how and when we will die, and she had just received that secret. Maybe it brought her some sort of peace, to know the end of her incredible story. Her dark brown almond eyes lit up as she smiled at my arrival.
“What do you want to do mom?” were my first words to her. “I can take you anywhere, we can do anything you want.”
She smiled at me again, and under the brim of her huge hat, she said, “I have had a beautiful and full life. I don’t want to go anywhere or do anything. I want to be here, with you.”
And with that said, we sat quietly, hand in hand, and wept through our smiles.
I don’t recall how that day ended. I don’t care to recall it. What I do remember from that day was the overwhelming peace, strength and courage that my mom displayed. How she joked, and how she told us to be strong for her. Never again did I see her cry for herself.
A few days before she died I realised that Death does not come quietly. It felt as though I had lost her already. She was confused and weak. Her petite and slender legs were so incredibly thin and papery that you could see the dark purple veins pulsating underneath. Her skin looked bruised and broken, and her hair was grey and thin, which despite her age, usually never saw the light of day under continuous black hair dyes and hair sprays. She was a phenomenally beautiful woman that had been resorted to a chattering old lady in nappies, incapable of bathing herself. Cancer is a cruel and relentless ride that you can’t get off.
I first learnt about the smell of Death on that day. I remember looking it up on Google; the sweet and putrid smell of a human body that is about to die. For the first time in thirteen months, I became acutely aware that we had lost her forever. I realised that this eccentric woman, who had loved so fiercely, lived so wildly, and who had protected and cared for her family so deeply, had already left us. Her suffering was now so great, that Death had became a much-needed respite.
I had barely settled into my day at the office when my sister called to say that an ambulance was taking our mom to the hospital. She was in pain, and the hospice nurse could no longer ease her discomfort. We all knew it. We all knew that once she arrived at the hospital, she would never leave.
I arrived before they did. And when they did, I noticed that my mom was the most coherent she had been in weeks. She smiled when she saw me, and told me that she was sore. She clenched her fists, she writhed, she pleaded for relief. I felt utterly helpless. I looked at my dad and my sisters, I saw the desperation in their eyes, and I heard their voices shake. I noticed how incredibly kind the doctors and nurses were being towards us and towards my mom. We were breaking all the hospital rules in our true family style. And then I realised that they too knew that this was her end. The rules do not apply when Death arrives.
I saw things over those next 48 hours that I wish I could unsee. I saw suffering that is impossible to be compared to anything other than torture. Not just my mom’s own suffering, but the suffering experienced by my sisters and my father.
The helplessness and confusion was immense. She would awaken for very brief moments, mumble something that didn’t make sense, and return to her sleepy state. We took turns sitting with her, only going home to shower and put on fresh clothes. But I don’t think she was really there with us anyway.
Then a miracle happened. There was a moment of pure stillness. We were all there, sitting around her hospital bed when she regained total consciousness. She made it clear that she wanted to say something, even though she could not talk at all. We surrounded her closely, like the petals on one of her favourite roses. She looked at each one of us for a few seconds, and with absolute determination she mouthed out individual I love you’s. No voice escaped her, but each of us understood her message. Finally, she fixed her eyes on my father. He told her that she could go, and in his arms, my mom closed her eyes, and left us. Peacefully.
It’s been four years since my mom closed her eyes for the last time. Those warm, brown, loving eyes that could also become like fire when her passions were stirred. She had beautiful eyes. A lot has happened in four years, and mostly because of losing my mom. Not just the loss of her, but the experience of it all. The suffering and the beauty of her death. The pain and the peace it brought to our family.
In the last four years, I have welcomed my third child to the world and immigrated my family to Australia from South Africa to pursue my mom’s dream for me. She wanted me to obtain a PhD. Today, I am halfway through my research, and I have paid AUS$45000 towards my tuition so far. I need another AUS45 000 to complete my PhD, which will then allow me to apply for permanent residency for my family here in Australia.
My request, is that somewhere out there, a donor would consider funding my remaining tuition fees so that I can complete my PhD, and make my mom proud.
My Paypal link is paypal.me/samanthalworthington