Thursday, July 16, 2009

Farewell, my love

The passage of time.

Nine years have gone by since I wrote Recollections of a Joyful Life as a 92nd birthday gift for my mother in South Africa. During that time I visited her each year until 2005 when it became too difficult for me to leave my husband here in Canada. Don's memory, damaged irreparably by strokes, had failed and he was to become increasingly dependent on me for everything.

I didn't care that my trips to South Africa in those latter years did not include trips to the ocean. I wanted only to be with my family and to spend as much time as possible with my little mother. My brother, Ed, had by now developed severe cervical neck problems that precluded long trips driving to the coast and Mum, too, was showing the effects of her advancing years although she still managed to hobble around the garden once each day for a little exercise.

Most days Eddie or Ray would take us shopping to one of the local malls - with Mum in a wheelchair, of course. During one of our shopping trips to the Eastgate Mall, Mum was sitting quietly in her wheelchair outside a store while the rest of us were inside when a lady came up and dropped a R5 coin into her lap. Mum was surprised, but before she could ask the reason for the contribution the lady had disappeared. We were greeted with this news when we rejoined Mum.... and spent the next half hour laughing. Apparently there was a drive on that day to collect funds for handicapped people and, as Mum was obviously handicapped, the lady must have figured she was on the collection team! Mum was reluctant to give up her spoils so Ray put R5 in one of the many collection boxes around the mall that day to make things right....and Mum had to put up with being teased about it forever after.

Each time I visited Mum she appeared to become noticeably frailer but she was always able to show signs of her old spirited awareness. With her eyesight failing, reading was difficult but she still managed (with large print and extra strength magnifying glasses) to wade through the bodice-busting romance novels she enjoyed. I remember once she even tried to persuade me not to read a novel that she felt had too much graphic sex in it (ha ha!). Actually, when I eventually did read it I found it to be very tame indeed.

It was sad for Mum when she was finally forced to give up the knitting and crocheting that had always kept her busy because, after that, she didn't seem to know what to do with her hands anymore. Thank goodness for the television set in her bedroom in front of which she would sit for hours watching cricket or tennis whenever they were on.

Twice a day Mum and I would play five games of Skip-Bo and she would crow with delight each time she won. During these games she loved serving me mugs of tea or coffee from her little electric kettle - with a plate of biscuits to nibble on the side. Those were times when we could talk quietly and she could hear what I was saying without other noise distractions. Mum never ever failed to tell me how much she loved Eddie and Joan and how grateful she was to them for having looked after her for so many years. It was during my 2006 visit that the two of us went through all the old snapshots that she had stashed away in boxes. I persuaded Mum to reminisce about her youth and told her I would write a little memoir for her similar to my own.

Some of the saddest events of my life have been saying goodbye to Mum. Each time I returned to Canada we would cling to each other, weeping, too choked up to say more than "I love you. be good - see you next year"....and always wondering if there would really ever be another year.

In 2007 I received a call from Eddie to say that Mum was very bad - heart and lungs failing - and she was on oxygen. I panicked. Asked my step-son Rod (who lives with us) if he could cope with his father for two weeks, and after Don said he would be alright also, booked a flight to South Africa, leaving in two days. During those two days I prepared and froze meals for Rod to serve, cancelled whatever appointments had been made, then packed haphazardly, and left.

Mum looked awful when I arrived but she was clearly happy to see me. I was able to give her a copy of Hanna's Story as promised and she read it with pleasure over a period of time. When I asked her what she thought of it she said it was great but she wished I had been able to include some further events that she had remembered since then......During that visit I spent most days massaging her swollen legs and taking over, as much as possible, all the duties that my brother had been doing for her so that he could have a rest. Mum perked up upon my arrival and we even managed to play our regular games of Skip-Bo. However, she was too poorly to accompany us when we went shopping and she spent a great deal of time sleeping. I left in two weeks, comforted by Mum's slight recovery, but with a greater fear that it may have been our last goodbye.

I went into shock on April 19. 2008, when Eddie called to say that Mum was failing fast and that he might have to take her to the hospital because he and Joan couldn't cope with her care anymore. I told him to hang on and I would see if I could fly down immediately to help. Rod and Don urged me to go and, despite the fact that I knew it would put a great strain on Rod, I booked a seat to leave the next day at 6 p.m. Then I packed my bag and purchased enough frozen dinners for Rod to serve for a week. Tried to sleep that night with great difficulty, fearing for my mother and worrying about Don and Rod. At 3 a.m. the phone shrilled and I was instantly awake. My brother's voice at the other end told me that Mum had just died peacefully. It was 10 a.m. in South Africa and Ray had arrived ten minutes earlier to help look after Mum. When I told Eddie that I was all packed and ready to leave at 6 p.m.that same day he said "Come, anyway, Joy" but Ray immediately took the phone to tell me not to disrupt our lives here by leaving Don and Rod to fend for themselves... especially as there was nothing further I could do in South Africa.

So, although Mum and I were never able to say our last goodbyes I know that she died knowing she was loved deeply by every member of her family. I created a video CD recording of Mum's life which she viewed some months before she died. The last frame had the following dedication:

"In loving memory of a mother who will live in our hearts forever"

and so, while this little memoir ends in sadness, I take comfort from the many wonderful memories I have of a mother who always gave so unstintingly of her love and devotion.

Farewell, little mother, until we meet again.