Last week in my post about perseverance, I wrote that my mother’s health had deteriorated and that she was in hospital.
I added that I was waiting for my brother to visit her so that I could talk to her on his cell phone.
It was too late,by the time he got there, she could no longer talk, but he is sure that she could hear my voice when he put the phone near her ear. It seems that she also heard Sue when my brother phoned later in the day but I was out.
We tried again via Skype on Thursday, she had been unresponsive for most of the day. Although she could not speak or move, my brother and his daughters believe she heard me say goodbye. The doctors did not expect her to survive the night.
At around 9 am UK time on Friday 17 January, with her two loving granddaughters at her side (my nieces) she died peacefully.
Several times during my recent visit, she made me promise that I would not “waste money flying over here again just to put me in the ground”.
I will honour that promise, I will not fly over for her funeral next Friday. I do feel bad that my brother, his wife and his two daughters must carry the burden of arranging everything, clearing out her flat (apartment) and disposing of her possessions.
For the last ten years or so, she had occasionally reminded me in our weekly Sunday morning phone calls that she had a will and an envelope with detailed instructions to be followed in the event of her death. The reminders became more frequent in the last two years as her health deteriorated.
Deliberately left where it would be easily found, my brother discovered a large envelope, endorsed “To be opened on my death”. It contained a copy of her will, a list of names and phone numbers of friends and relatives to be notified. An indication of her long life and the length of time she had been preparing that list, was the large number of names crossed out, names of those who had gone before her, many far younger.
Her will contained detailed instructions, including that no black clothes should be worn at her funeral, she wanted as much colour as possible. Donations in lieu of flowers to be made to her two favourite charities, Guide dogs for the Blind and the Lifeboat Association.
Also in the envelope was a list of every account that would need closing, along with account numbers, telephone numbers, contact names, and any other relevant information. Everything was noted, utilities, bank account, pension, tax, stop orders.
It was no surprise that she had a funeral policy, and had already made all the choices required.
She hated to be a burden on any one and maintained that to the end. With her characteristic sense of organisation and tidiness, she had prepared for her death as efficiently as she had lived her life.
In some ways, it is a shock that her health deteriorated so rapidly. Four weeks before, we had enjoyed a lunch at a local pub to celebrate her 90 th birthday. Less than two weeks after I left to fly home, she was admitted to hospital and two weeks later she was gone.
In other ways, not surprising. Given her determination to be self-sufficient, her remarkable courage and strength, I believe that she had decided it was time to go.
Despite her horrific injuries in a terrorist ambush in Rhodesia in 1979, losing my father in a second ambush four months later while she was still in hospital, months of painful rehabilitation while she learned to walk again. Despite the need to wear a caliper on her damaged leg for 35 years and having to use a cane the last few, she had been relatively mobile, healthy and pain-free until two years ago.
A heart problem, a fall resulting in a broken arm and damaged shoulder and in the last few months a few other problems had all caused her discomfort, a lack of mobility and at times severe pain.
Before I told her in November last year that I would be with her for her birthday, she had told my niece that she was convinced she would never see me again. She was overjoyed when I told her that I had booked my air ticket.
I was able to spend many hours with her during my trip to the UK in December. I split my time between the guest apartment in her block and my brother’s house a few miles away. We shared a lot of good memories and some not so good. She told me more about her childhood and early adult life that I did not know or had forgotten. We spoke of my father and her devotion to him even after almost 35 years without him. We played scrabble and had many good meals together, she was a good cook to the end. She still did not trust my cooking, but I was permitted to make tea and wash dishes.
Although I told her that Sue and I planned to visit her in the summer of 2014, it was an unspoken understanding that we were spending our last time together in this world. We knew what was ahead, we did not know precisely when it would be, but suspected within a few months. Very few people live to be 90 and fewer still much beyond.
How did I feel? Generally good, I was grateful that I was able to spend time with her, at times I felt sad, knowing that we were playing out the last scenes in the final act of our family history that would include her generation. Happy that her spirit would live on in a new history through her four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Thankfully I was able to tell her in our last telephone call just minutes before she was taken to hospital, that her two newest great-grandchildren had arrived safely
In similar ways, her generation and mine (those of us who lived in Southern Africa and a few other places) had experienced war, good people dying before their time. We have had a closer acquaintance with death than many in the first world. As farmers, lifelong animal owners and observers of the violent reality of sudden death in the animal and human species in Africa, we accept better than many that death is both natural and inevitable.
Perhaps that is why I speak and write of my mother’s death, not her passing, passing on, or other common euphemisms.
We believe that she had used up all her resilience and strength to hang on for her 90 th birthday, my visit and to spend Christmas Day with my brother, his wife, her two beloved grand daughters, one great grand-daughter and several other family members.
Thinking back to my visit, things she said and did, I am sure that she knew the end was close.
She faced it with the same uncomplaining and unselfish fortitude with which she faced all the challenges life sent her way. Bravely, resolutely and without any fuss or self-pity. A lesson for us all.
I hope that when my turn comes, I can face it with the same grace and acceptance she did.
Rest in peace Mum, you deserve it.