Enter Mourning: A memoir on death, dementia and coming home
By: Heather Menzies
“Your brother just called from the hospital. Your mother’s – “
I still can’t remember what word she used next.
I had been primed. I had been prepared for her to be – gone. The palliative-care nurse had taken me delicately and firmly aside when I arrived in the morning. “Your mother is dying,” she said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if she were gone within 12 hours.”
Over the past three years, I had struggled to understand, to accept and to be there for Mum as dementia stripped her ability to remember, to navigate her car, to dress herself, and, finally, to speak in whole sentences. I’d learned a new, old language vested in gestures and touch, enunciated through rhythm, tone and cadence. I’d discovered the lovely landscape of sitting side by side with Mum on her single residence bed, just holding hands. When a stroke and a broken hip took her down further, we became so attuned to each other it was as though the umbilical cord that had connected us at the beginning of my life had grown back between us at the end of hers. Then this morning, what might have been another stroke during the night had left her unable to surface, to wake up. She was in a coma.
I’d spent the day with Mum, surrounded by the slight paraphernalia required at this stage, for someone who can no longer move, no longer swallow, whose organs are shutting down, the extremities growing cold because the blood is hardly flowing anymore. There were tiny pink sponges on sticks to moisten the inside of her dehydrated mouth, Vaseline for her drying lips, lotions to comfort her hands, socks to warm her chilling feet. I had made good use of these, tending to Mum as she lay there breathing quietly, sometimes seeming to sigh. I was ready. No I wasn’t.
Oh, but Mum would have been pleased at how well I handled it all. Norma offered to drive, but I was okay……