At the Pearly Gates

I slept late. Last night I imagined Mother at the Pearly Gates and I hoped she had got in. You might think that would be a given, but Mother used to be capable of driving my father to distraction dithering about whether to call someone.
“They might be eating.” ” Do you think they watch Z Cars?” ” Is it too late?” “I don’t want to disturb them.”
“Just call,” my father would say,” they don’t have to answer.”
And I am talking about the days before answer phones.
So I can imagine Mother, approximate time of death half past six in the morning, wondering if Peter was up and not wanting to disturb his sleep in case he was having a lie-in. Then thinking he might be up but having his breakfast; reading the day’s paper; sitting on the loo; having a shower; getting dressed; hurrying to an important meeting with The Almighty. Everything and anything that would make her hesitate about ringing the bell, knocking on the door, or however it is organised at heaven’s gates. Continue reading

A New Day

It is a beautiful evening. The marina is quiet; MasterB is curled up opposite me and purring; birds are trilling, the sun is beginning to set. I am glad of the calm and the sun. Both feel respectful and right.
Mother died this morning. It was early, half past six; the time in days past when she used to get up. The connection here failed and I did not learn of her death for a further two hours. I lost the butter. Somehow between the call and coffee I misplaced it. I found it tonight in a cupboard where it does not belong.
I took my time. MasterB had some shore leave, and then I went to see her. My nephews were already there, but left me for some minutes alone with her. I drew back the closed curtains and let the light in. Mother loved daylight. She opened her curtains at night before she went to bed so that it would fill the room in the morning. For a moment it looked like she was breathing, but she was too flat, too still. I anointed her forehead with lavender oil and kissed her, told her again that I loved her. When the boys came back, it seemed natural to include her in our conversation, lying there as she was between us. Her face was recognisable, but less like herself and more like John Milton’s death mask.
It was time to go, to let the undertakers come and collect her. Once more the boys let me have some time alone with her, just a few moments, another goodbye.

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The soundtrack to these days is Snow Patrol, despite the fact that The day thy gavest, Lord, is ending is in my ears all the time. But in the car Snow Patrol rules. There is one track that I turn up, that somehow articulates some of what I am feeling, and the fact that it has pretty, jangly, chords too seems right. It’s about a broken love affair; he doesn’t know, but she could be happy. I feel a bit like that with Mother. She isn’t able to tell me, but maybe she is happy; maybe she is happily saying a slow goodbye to her life. She has always had a strong Christian faith, so maybe she is anticipating a happy afterlife. Some months after my father died, she was walking down the road, thinking about him, when suddenly she looked up at the sky and thought, he’s a free spirit now. She told me she felt like a burden had been lifted, that instead of imagining him in his death throes, she felt he was happy, not slowed and frustrated by the illnesses he had suffered.
Another line in the same song says how somehow everything he has smells of her. It strikes a chord. How can the abstract pack such a punch?

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Christmas Visit

It has been a mild day, but all the same, fifteen minutes sitting on a metal bench at Cambridge ststion was more than enough. I was very happy to board the next train.
I have spent the day East seeing Mother.
She was asleep when I arrived, and when she woke was confused and disorientated. A clergyman came to see her. He seemed to feel I was more in need of blessing than Mother. Maybe he was right.
I took the opportunity to discuss funerals with him. My recent experience when my friend Alison died has made me aware how short a time one has at the crematorium. It turns out there is a chapel we can use very close to the home. This was good news.
This sounds crazy, but I really hope this will be Mother’s last Christmas. I don’t want her to die, yet I do. To see her further diminished would be heart breaking.
I had the end of life meeting with a nurse. The things we do and do not want. I signed. She witnessed. This feels better.
Mother ate a good lunch and nearly licked the pudding dish. She drank quantities of cranberry juice.
When I had finished the talking and signing we want back to poetry.
Brilliant. There is no other word for it. Yeats, Larkin, De La Mare, Masefield, Wordsworth, Roaetti. The old favouritea. And Jenny wotsit’s Warning.
Mother held my hand and tapped the rhythms. We sighed. We laughed. We kissed and rubbed noses.
It was lovely. Precious. Special.
I came home on the train with my heart lighter than it has been for weeks.
Aunt is visiting on Christmas Eve with Morher’s close and loyal friend. Nephew is visiting with a Labrador on Christmas Day.