On that day in late June, when I left Mum to drive to the airport, I felt the least amount of sadness in leaving that I have ever felt in all of my goodbyes. I knew that she would be well taken care of and that she wouldn’t be lonely or have to spend her days cleaning or cooking or worrying about the electricity bill in Winter. This was the good life and she was long overdue for a taste.
Over the next month, we all returned to our respective lives as Mum adjusted to hers. She told me stories of enjoyable morning tea’s and how nice everyone seemed to be. While still in the adjustment phase that moving after living in one house for over 35 years would inevitably bring, she was genuinely excited about this new chapter in her life. She could finally relax and enjoying buying herself some new furniture and recover some of her beautiful vintage pieces that she had treasured for many years.
And then everything changed. I received a message from Mum’s dear friend Maria that Mum was in hospital with a probable chest infection. I rang the hospital but she was already asleep so I left a message for her and then I let my brothers know. 2 days later they told us that they had detected a mass and their prediction was cancer. A biopsy would give us more information. We were knocked sideways. I will never forget ringing the hospital after that diagnosis to speak to Mum and the nurse telling her that it was her daughter on the phone. Her voice broke as she said “Oh no…” and there was a pause and then she said “Hi”, her voice again steady. She was the patient but she was still my Mum, taking care of me while I tried to take care of her. My brothers jumped on planes to get to Mum and told me to stay put for now.
James had the awful job of meeting with the Doctor and having to hear words like ‘terminal’ and ‘riddled with cancer’ and then having to communicate with all who loved our Mum. From the biopsy results, they gave us the prediction that Mum would live 3-6 months. It was a timeline that we first mourned and then as things progressed, began to cling to. Mum wanted another Christmas with her nine grandchildren. We promised her that we would make that happen.
My brothers moved Mum back to her apartment and I made plans to fly home. 7 weeks after leaving New Zealand, I was back and it felt like walking in to a nightmare. Anthony had left the day before to fly back to Australia and it was clear from our conversations that things had progressed since he left. 48 hours after arriving, I was moving Mum from her beautiful apartment to a small room on the 3rd floor that had 24 hour care which she already needed. James flew down to Wellington to help me with the move which I really appreciated. And then it was just us.
And in case anyone envisions hours spent talking about life and love and lessons learned, don’t. My Mum was never one to speak about what was possible, she was only interested in the here and the now. Taking after her father, a dreamer she was not. So I should have known better when I asked her “Do you have any advice for me? For my life?” She looked at me with the faintest glimmer in her eye and said “I don’t.” And in that dark and depressing room, I burst out laughing which made her smile. She was still my Mother and would be until the day she died.
Luckily for the both of us, I can talk so when Mum became too weak to hold a conversation, I would describe what my kids were doing and how much they missed Sunday’s at Nana’s house last year. I taught the nurses exactly how she liked her pillows and what time she wanted her breakfast and how she liked her curtains opened at night so she could wake to the morning light and how the ice-cream they would bring her was her favourite part of the day so please don’t forget it.
I was so grateful for her friends Monica and Peter who lived in the same village and who visited every day, sometimes twice a day. Her sister Alison came and I watched Mum brighten and contribute to memories of their childhood. Maria came straight from the airport to see Mum. My sister in law flew down from Auckland for the day which I so appreciated. I kept my brothers informed just as they had done for me.
And then our dreams of months quickly became days and then minutes. My Mum died on the 25th of August, 2017. I was by kneeling by her bed, holding her hand and telling her how much she was loved. My brothers were on their way to New Zealand when it happened. James was in India and Anthony was on a train to Sydney airport to catch his flight when I talked to him. He said “I am not coming for Mum anymore, I am coming for you Suz.” Just as James had done the day before when we guessed he wouldn’t make it. And then in that room, I became the one with the phone and the worst news of my life to share.
I realise that a blog is not the place to tell this story but for me it is. Firstly because never one to give a compliment, Mum told me over and over again that she loved what I wrote last year and that she would read it and re-read it. And also because I can’t yet speak about this to all of my wonderful friends who have called without reliving it. Not yet anyway.
There are finally, things to be grateful for. I am grateful that over the last year, my brothers and I are closer than ever and that made my Mum very happy. With busy lives and families of our own, not to mention all living in different countries, it can be difficult to maintain ties but we are more committed than ever to doing just that. I am grateful that when Mum felt too ill to speak, I could put the phone to her ear and she could hear her sons tell her that they loved her and watch her tell them that she loved them too. I am grateful that I have a husband that can take a call in the middle of the night with me saying that I need him to bring our three kids, after looking after them for 3 weeks, to New Zealand for their Nana’s funeral and he does not waiver. No wonder Mum sang his praises whenever she had the chance. And to my children who arrived after traveling for 29 hours the day before their Nana’s funeral, grateful doesn’t even begin to describe it. I watched Poppy hand out funeral programs and Tate give a bible reading with his cousin and Emma, at only 11, stand stoically and help carry her Nana’s casket out of the church. And to the nurses, Liz and Moira and Heidi and Liz and Grace who cared for Mum and for me, I want my children to know your names because you are part of Mum’s story. Thank you so very much. And to all of our friends and family that came to pay their respects, you made the day better by being there.
I will be forever grateful to be my Mother’s daughter. She was one hell of a woman whom I can only imagine is enjoying a gin and tonic with all of her loved ones that went before her.
Cheers, to the good times.
Your full time daughter