When my father passed away in 2009, the emotional pain was so immediate and excrutiating, it became a physical spike in the middle of my chest which stayed there for several weeks. I spent months tortured by thoughts of what he had gone through in his last moments. The mental image of him lying so still and helpless on a hospital bed still haunts me. I cried all day for several days, no matter what I was doing. Even walking down the street, the tears would come as the grief conjured memories of times we’d had when he (and I) were younger. Things I’d see or experience would remind me that my dad would never see or experience them, and I wept for him.
People call it loss. That doesn’t cut it. Not by a long shot.
My mum passed away yesterday morning. Today I’m still waiting for the tears. I wonder why. I want to cry. I know I should cry. But for some reason, I can’t.
My reasoning mind can’t help but try to examine this extreme difference in reaction. My relationship with my father was very different to the one I had with my mum. Both were complex people who were difficult to deal with in different ways.
As a fellow Aries, I tended to gravitate towards Dad, who shared many of the same interests as me as well as the same sense of humour. We connected intellectually.
I struggled with my relationship with Mum. Even before she became ill, there was not a lot between us we had in common. Where Dad would explode and then get over it when he was upset, Mum would simmer. She never seemed to appreciate or understand the things I was passionate about, and vice versa.
The circumstances of their passing is another possible reason why I’m having a different experience this time. Dad’s death came suddenly. His journey from becoming ill to passing away was relatively short. And there was the denial. This is Dad. He can’t die! When it happened, it was unexpected. I was unprepared.
Mum’s illness has been eating away at her for years. Insidiously at first. Mum’s always been a little forgetful. Her mixing up names and going through a list of them before hitting the right one had been a standing joke in the family for as long as I can remember. That, however, is a fairly typical thing for people under a lot of mental pressure to do. Working memory gets stressed and we get muddled. So, when things got more muddled for her, we really didn’t notice. Not for a while.
When her walking got bad and she burnt down her bungalow (thankfully getting out before she got hurt), we realised that there was somthing going on. A medical investigation diagnosed Altzheimers. From that point, when she was moved into residential care, to yesterday when she passed away, my siblings and I watched her personality change, her mental and then physical capacity drain away. The person we knew faded away until she lost all interest in the world beyond her dying mind.
As a woman in her prime she was energetic and fun-loving. From a vibrant mother, she became a wizened hag trying to curl up into a foetal ball in her chair. Everything had to be done for her, from feeding her to changing her adult nappies, she was literally an infant in an old person’s body.
So, for me, her passing brings a sense of relief. I’m relieved that she’s been released. She can move on to whatever better place exists beyond life. To see her writhing in her chair, barely able to communicate that she’s in pain, or reaching for a jelly baby on the tray table in front of her like a child in a high-chair was unbearable.
Before she died, I remember thinking that the woman who was my mother passed away some time ago. Slowly, invisibly, but dying none the less.
I’m sure the grief will come. But for now, I’m just glad she doesn’t have to endure the indignity of advanced dementia any longer.