I Am the Father I Am Because of My Mother

It has just turned 9:19pm in Sydney. It is Friday night, the 25th October 2013. I have put both the boys to bed and they are sound asleep. My wife is out with some friends learning how to make macaroons. And now I am sitting down to write something that I have been thinking about writing for a few weeks, maybe since I saw October approaching on the calendar, maybe a little longer. October used to mean something quite different for me. But that was in my life before I met Gen and before our eldest son came along. But it was less than a year into my life as a father that a major part of my life came crashing down.

I had only been with my (then) new company for three months when I was flown up to the Gold Coast, Queensland to represent the company in a conference and exhibition. It was the first time that I was going to spend more than one night away from my (then) girlfriend and our son. It was around this time (or some time before this) that, at 10-months-old our eldest went from being a great sleeper to being a not so great sleeper. Both Gen and I were so tired, so very, very, tired all, the, time…

My mum, dad, me and our first son…

As I was going to be gone from Monday night through to Saturday morning, my mum offered to stay at our house and help Gen out. At 66 years of age, and after suffering from and recovering from a few different cancers plus some other illnesses to “keep her on her toes” my mum wasn’t the most energetic person on the planet. Because our boy was crawling we had installed a few baby gates around the house and we had a non-swinging fixed fence halfway down the hallway of our old house which Gen had to take down to allow my mum safe passage.

A couple of days into the stay, Gen was on the floor with the baby when my mother came bounding down the hallway all full of energy. She stepped over the fence and then made her way to the floor to play with the boy. We have a photo of this; Gen took the photo to show me on my return. I must find where that photo is. The most amazing thing was, when she was finished playing with the baby she got herself back up onto her feet. She hadn’t done that in ages. On my return home just over five days later I was met at the door by my mum. She was so full of life. She was missing my dad as she hadn’t seen him in five nights so I grabbed her suitcase and put it in my car to take her home.

On the drive home she commented about my car. I drive a mid-sized SUV which sits pretty high up in the traffic and is so much more comfortable then sitting down in a low sedan or hatchback. And to my mum who was used to climbing down into my father’s low station wagon, getting into my car was a breeze.

“The first thing I’m going to tell your father when we get home is that we are getting a new car,” she told me in a very firm voice. “We are getting one of those small four-wheel-drives like you have.”

Of course, when we got to their front door that wasn’t the first thing she told my dad. Instead she told him how proud she was of me with my new job, and she told my dad about how spending the week with her grandson has given her a new burst of energy. A new leash on life. That was September 12…

Fast forward exactly a month later. It was the evening over 12th October 2009. The band I was playing in back then was on our second female singer in just over a year and her and I were discussing new songs to do via email. I found this transcript from a discussion that evening;

In an email from me to the singer;

“My mum was rushed to hospital this morning by ambulance.  She spent all day last Thursday and all day Saturday in hospital as well but when she was screaming in pain this morning my dad phoned a hotline number they have (for old people) and the woman on the phone sent an ambulance because she was worried. My mum is not good at the moment and whilst she had a good time staying here twice in the last few months for a week each time, her health is failing her miserably.”

The singer’s reply to me;

“Sorry to hear that, hope she will be ok.”

My reply to her;

“She will be.”

That was the last of that conversation for the night. I have to say, I was a little worried. As I mentioned in the email to her, not only did my mum stay at our house whilst I was away on business, she stayed with us for a week while I was home too. Maybe she knew that her time on this earth was limited and she wanted to spend as much time with her grandson as possible. Back then we lived in a duplex with my brother and his wife and their twins who are four months younger than our eldest so my mum could easily go next door and spend time with all her grandchildren without any effort when she stayed with us. And when she was with us, it was like that movie Cocoon where the old and frail people get all this energy from a strange source. For the characters in that movie it was giant alien eggs, but for my mother it was her grandkids.

I can’t remember exactly which day my mum had told me this, but late one morning my dad called and asked me to drive into the city (Sydney) where my brother worked and to bring him to the hospital because mum needed to talk to us. He wouldn’t elaborate but it was the worst kept secret as both my brother and I speculated what she was going to tell us, and we guessed correctly. Sadly, I wished we were wrong this time…

“I won’t be leaving this hospital alive,” she said. Those words have echoed through my head so many times over the last four years.

But she was wrong. On Thursday the 22nd October she did leave the hospital that she was taken to by ambulance, and she was still alive. Unfortunately though (or fortunately as she put it) she managed to get a room in a local palliative care hospital. Basically, she was going somewhere more comfortable to see her days out. The night before her move my band had a charity gig which was a fund raiser for the doctors and nurses at Sydney Children’s Hospital. I wanted to be with my mum every night but she told me that she would be disappointed if I didn’t play the charity show. Those doctors and nurses who attended the show needed to let their hair down from the stress of treating sick kids, and I couldn’t let down a dying woman. Especially not my own mother.

I visited her that night once she moved to the palliative care hospital. I brought her the final series of JAG on DVD which she wanted to watch. Imagine dying without knowing what happens. She loved that show. She never opened it and we still have the DVD wrapped in that protective plastic that it comes in from the shops. I visited her once again on the Friday night too. My plan was to see her every day. On the Saturday night, the band had a wedding to play. By Saturday morning my mum could hardly stay awake and she could barely talk and she wasn’t eating anything. My dad was trying to get her to drink but he was losing that battle.

We had organised as an extended family to go and see my mum on the Sunday. By extended I mean my dad, Gen and our 10-month-old, my brother, his wife and their 6-month-old twins plus his wife’s parents. Unfortunately our son had a rough night the night before and Gen thought it be best if they didn’t go as the last time we took him he wanted to pull the drip from my mum’s arm as babies will tend to do. She also thought that is was distressing for him to see his grandmother like that. So the rest of us met at one of my mum’s favourite places to eat and we had lunch before heading over to the palliative care hospital.

It was a little crowded in her room and I felt really uncomfortable with everyone in there looking at my mum while she laid dying so I left the room for the most part. As my parents live a decent hour’s drive away soon everyone started leaving until it was just my dad, my mum and I left in the room. Sometimes we sat in silence. Sometimes my dad and I chatted, talking about the sort of bullshit we like to crap on about. (Yes, I’ll admit that Gen). My dad is a diabetic and needs to make sure he gets his regular meals so come 5pm I kicked him out and told him to go home. He had plans to return that night like he was doing every night but I told him that I was planning on staying so he could take the night off. Besides, his favourite show 60 Minutes would be on at 7:30pm and mum wouldn’t want him to miss that.

Back in August this year, (the following sentence or two is from Mamamia.com.au) Scott Simon, the host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, was sitting by his mother’s bedside in the ICU as she slowly passed away. He was also tweeting throughout the days and hours he spent there: thoughtful, quiet tweets about what his mother was saying, what he was thinking, how his family was responding. You can read more about that by clicking here.

Back in October 2009, I was already there, only with a much smaller “audience” on my personal Facebook page. At 5:09pm I wrote “loves his mum” and here is what followed;

Mum dying Facebook status Number 1

I put my phone down at some time around 8:15pm. I remember my mother’s breathing was completely different. She hadn’t been able to speak for more than 24 hours and I didn’t know what she was going through. I talked to her many times telling her things that I thought she should know. I told her secrets that no one else knows. I told her about how she has made me the person I am today and that I will be the best father to my kids (well just one back then, but…) because of the way our relationship was. Yes I will admit to you that I was a mummy’s boy; I love my dad, but I loved my mum like she was a god, or a goddess in her case. No I’m not talking Oedipus, but my mum was everything to me.

Many times throughout the afternoon and evening I asked my mum to squeeze my hand if she could hear me. She never did. I got nothing from her. Maybe she was playing possum. Maybe she thought if she pretended that she couldn’t hear me I would tell her more dark secrets. It was raining lightly for most of the afternoon and evening and now it had started to get a bit heavier. It was dark outside except for a few lights I could see beyond the wall outside her window. Inside her room there was just enough light for me to clearly see her face, but the main lights you normally have on when visiting someone in hospital weren’t on.

I just sat there. I just looked at her. The woman who brought me into this world. The woman who raised me to her breast to give me my first nourishment. The woman who put my needs before her own for so long. The woman who helped me in my times of need, in my darkest hours, when I just needed someone to be there for me. She always was.

The rails of her bed were up in the event that she had a spasm or something like that and fell out. I had my right hand resting on the rail most of the night. And then, at 8:30pm the first sign of life that I had seen for almost 48 hours. My mum reached her hand over to mine. She grabbed my hand and squeezed it tight. She squeezed it tighter than she had ever squeezed it before. And then I looked at her face. I was hoping for a smile; all I got was her last breath. With her last bit of energy she reached out to me and then she was gone.

It is maybe fitting that my mum died at 8:30pm. There she was being selfless again. Waiting until the very minute that 60 Minutes would be over so that my dad could watch it to the end. Of course, he was at home and didn’t know that my mum had slipped away yet. I ran out of the room. I ran in slow motion. The nurse on duty knew what I was about to tell her. She could tell by the look on my face. She told me that I was completely white and that I needed to sit down and just breathe. But I couldn’t. I was shaking. I was stunned. But I was focused. They asked if me if they should call my dad. I told them I needed to tell him, and I needed to do it face to face. On the way to my dad’s house I called my best mate and told him. I needed him to go and get my brother and bring him to my dad’s house. Mates do that sort of thing when another mate needs his help.

When I got to my dad’s front door it hit me. It hit me hard. As the door open I just lost it and hugged him like I had never hugged him before. He knew without me even speaking. About an hour later my mate turned up with my brother and it was one of the most surreal moments I can remember. I had calmed down a lot then. My dad had a lot to do with that.

We ended the night travelling back to the hospital so that my brother and dad could say goodbye. Just like earlier that evening when her room was full of people I found it hard to be in there with my dad and brother, or our complete family really, just that my mum had no longer had a voice. And she always had one. She was very vocal in our house. She is the reason why I am an active father. She is the reason why I am an active partner. She is the reason why I want to have my voice heard.

After her retirement she started university studies for adults and she was doing writing courses. She would often tell me that even though she was twice my age with double the life experiences, and had read a million more books than I have, she thought that I was the better writer, the better story teller and that she actually learned a lot from the lyrics, poems and short stories I wrote and even remarked that my emails sometimes have more expression than some books she had read.

And whilst I don’t believe that anything I have written here tonight is a work of any considerable masterpiece (I’m writing through tired and teary eyes),  I want to leave you with the eulogy and song/poem I wrote for her.

I had thought about one thousand different things to say about my relationship with my Mum, after all, we knew each other for 12,979 days.

When I was younger we would play games together.  We’d play cards, we’d play board games, but one of my favourite games you all might know these days Scattergories.  Well before Milton Bradley released it as a board game, Mum and I would just make up our own list of categories, choose a letter and try to beat each other to be the first to complete the list.

“What’s a boy’s name starting with C?  What’s a country beginning with C?  What’s a song title beginning with C?”

And speaking of Milton Bradley, if you flip them around and add my first name you get Darrell Bradley Milton.  Mum and I used to play lots of word association games which really got me interested in creative writing.  Here’s one for you, Mum; funeral is an anagram of “real fun.” And that is what Mum and I always had; real fun.

You just heard a poem that my Mum wrote.  It was about her growing old; a sombre topic indeed, but she added a twist, a light hearted ending.  Mum’s clouds always had silver linings.

I share her love of creative writing.  When I started writing songs and poems at age 13 I would take them to her to get her opinion.  She was always honest with me.  If she thought the words were boring, she’d tell me.  If she thought they lacked impact, she’d tell me. If she thought they lacked originality, she’d tell me.

I know this will make me cry, but that’s the one thing above all I will miss about her; she won’t be replying to my emails when I’ve written something new.  She won’t stumble across lyrics I have written on crumpled up piece of paper sitting on my bedroom floor.  I won’t know what she has to say about the poem I have written for her today……………….

On The Day You Left Me

On the day that you left me it had started raining
Now every time it rains I’ll think of you
And if it doesn’t rain for days, I’m not complaining
Because the sunshine will remind me of you too

The day that you left me we were there together
I held your hand so I could comfort you
And we never even talked about the weather
Because I felt that small talk wasn’t right for you

On the day you left me I told you that I loved you
I told you that you can give up the fight
And I told you that I’ve always been proud of you
And I reassured you that I’d be alright

On the day you left me it was getting colder
And then darkness had replaced the light of day
And I knew your tranquil peace was ‘round the corner
And with one last breath I watched you slip away

On the day that you left me it had started raining
Now every time it rains I’ll think of you
And if it doesn’t rain for days, I’m not complaining
Because the sunshine will remind me of you too

Mum, I was glad you were the one to witness my first breath and I was there to witness your last.

I love you.

8 thoughts on “I Am the Father I Am Because of My Mother

  1. Thank you for this. Death is so easy to mourn, but it must also be celebrated and honored. You have done that with such grace and beauty and love. My tears are a prayer for you and your mother. Lovely, just lovely…

  2. What a beautiful tribute to your mum. I love how you’ve also managed to weave humour into this piece, amid your grief. Love the 60 mins reference! Because death is really a celebration of life and sounds like your mum had a very full one. Lovely writing too.

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