It is almost a year since my mother died and I’m still coming to grips with it.
The thing is, it all happened so fast, a message from the aged care home advising she had been sent to the hospital with breathing difficulties at 6:15, a call from the nurse and then doctor at 7:45 ti tell me that her death was imminent, and then the call at 8:45 to say she passed at 8:30.
Those are the facts
It was not as if we didn’t know this was going to happen, and it came out of left field.
She had been suffering from dementia for about the last ten years, and it only got worse where five years ago she was no longer able to remember any of us, and then a few months ago, she was confined to bed. The writing, as they say, was on the wall. I know she is in a better place now
Another fact; we didn’t get along in those last few years before I was erased from her memory, and by the time we could have made amends it was too late. It’s a recurrent theme in so many broken relationships; words spoken in anger, an unhealthy rift, and then it’s too late.
But, I did get to see her, after she died, before she took that second to last journey to the morgue, and although it was not a pretty sight, she was as I remembered her, even though in the last stages of her life she had withered away.
After I left, it wasn’t until I got home that the truth of the matter sunk in. My mother had died, aged 94. And in all of that time, I couldn’t say I knew her. I was thinking about writing a eulogy, but realised when it came down to it, what could I say?
If was not until several years ago when my brother started delving deeply in our ancestry did we discover all those relatives we knew nothing about
Prior to that my knowledge of her family extended to a mother, whom she treated badly, a brother we only saw when we stayed with her mother on Christmas holidays, a large and forbidding man, and a system of whom she was insanely jealous, and never met other than two times in my life.
For all intents and purposes she shunned them.
What were the reasons for this?
It was the same on my father’s side, but he’s a different story, and, for the time being still alive.
So my own memories of growing up were that of someone believing she had no other relatives because we never saw them. It is odd to grow up in a sort of bubble like that. No family gatherings for Christmas, or any other events.
It seemed also that she never kept track of her sister, or her brother, and rarely visited her mother. We were, my brother and I, privileged to stay with her over two weeks of the end of year holidays
And the difference between staying with her and living at home was as dark as day and night. She actually cared about us, and made that stay memorable. It provided, very early on, a reason to start asking questions. Clearly her parents had money, but instead of accepting who she was and where she came from, it seemed to me that she resented her, and had rebelled.
Until I left home, to be married, and start a family of my own, where I met a girl with three bothers, and a mother to die for one who could actually cook, and showed genuine interest in her family. Only then did I understand the nuances of families, and what I had been missing for the first 21 years of my life.
But it was not until my parents had to move into a nursing home because the onset of her dementia made living independently impossible. Left to clean up the residue of 80 plus years of their lives we found a treasure trove of letters my mother had kept.
At first it was disjointed, until someone realised that she had a previous boyfriend to my father, a boy who lived in the same country town, a boy we could imagine had been to school with her, and they had been friends for a very long line, a boy called Eric
Like a great many young men, he signed up to go to war, and while he was there, the war was made more bearable knowing she was at home waiting for him to return
We didn’t have her letters, but she kept all of his, and they spoke of undying love, plans for the future, together. In 1944 should have been 18. She went to Dandenong High School, and then got work in the city (Melbourne), staying during the week at a ladies only boarding house and going home for the weekends.
She had friends at school, and got up to mischief like any other teenagers, but this we only discovered when my mother thought mt wife was one of her old school friends. Dementia wrecks recent memories we discovered, but the older memories they were still there.
There was also some notes in the pile of letters of her own, that spoke of a loneliness while in the city, when friends were away, and of a temper, but I was not quite sure what that meant. This was disjointed information, the sort that doesn’t make sense at time time, but later when a series of events happen, the pieces begin to fit together.
The first question: what happened to Eric.
I’m still trying to get some history on him. There’s a letter, he was back home, they met, and then…
A note, a draft of an apology, to him for losing her temper. Over what? And if their love was all conquering, what was it sge said that had him disappear they way he had?
Stay tuned, there’s more to this story.
So, those letters end in 1946 when he was about to be discharged.
Nothing started again until October 1947.
That’s when my father got an introduction card from a lady who specialised in introducing young women to prospective husbands.
Wow. A dolly Levi event.
He writes the first letter, after going to visit her and she had gone back home for the weekend. This friendship was going to be fought with absence as her was a projectionist working at the Snowy River Hydroelectric scheme, and not able to visit Melbourne as often as he would like.
It was like ships passing in the night.
And the letters of his, not hers, were completely different in tone and substance. The word love was never used or expressed. It explained a lot.
He spoke of domestication, heaven knows what she wrote about, but it was abundantly clear this to her was completely different from her first love. In fact, if we fast forward 30 odd years, it seems to me, now that I know all this, that she had given up on the idea of a marriage built on love, that her first love had drained the life out of her, and what was left was a woman going through the motions.