My mother was a nurse. Although she hadn’t practised nursing for many years I reckoned the experience would have instilled in her some commonsense as well as compassion when my father was taken ill. I was wrong. Many years later an item in the press reminded me of her and prompted me to write the following:
A recent court case in this country (see here) concerned a woman who was told she could not visit her 78 year old mother since the old lady had had a stroke and would be unable to recognise or communicate with her daughter. The article went on to say that the daughter was deprived “of the opportunity to speak with her mother before they were separated forever by death”.
This story disturbed me. It took me back more than 50 years, to the year my Dad died. Believe me he was far too young to die and it broke my heart because I had been unable to say goodbye.
When Dad had a severe heart attack we discovered that certain valves in his heart had collapsed. After a period of hospitalization he was given strong medication and sent home with the warning that under no circumstances was he to get stressed. He was to be kept quiet and calm. In those days medical science was not as advanced as it is today so there was little hope he would survive.
I was married and living away, without any access to the house. Mom had taken my house keys the day I left and never gave them back. Consequently I had to knock the door or ring the bell whenever I called to see my father. Mom continued to work, leaving Dad alone in the house.
One day I called at a time when I thought Mom would be at home, only to find a note on the front door which read ‘SICKNESS, DO NOT DISTURB. PLEASE DO NOT RING OR KNOCK THE DOOR.’ The back of the house was also locked and bolted. You can imagine my dilemma.
Trying to suppress my anger I went away to ponder on what to do next. The telephone had been put out of bounds to outside callers because it was felt that Dad might be anxious to get to the phone before it stopped ringing which could cause some anxiety.
A plan was devised. I wrote a letter to tell him that I would ring at a certain time and that I would use a three-ring code so he would know it was me. It worked. Twice.
I expressed my disappointment that I couldn’t just call to see him but all he said was ‘You know what your mother’s like’. I did, I also thought her new rules were way over the top.
As I said above, I managed two phone appointments before he passed away. He died alone and I wasn’t there to say goodbye. Just like the article, it was forbidden!
Even though I frequently told myself that it was done ‘for the best’ I have never fully got over the fact that I wasn’t there for my father. Indeed, no-one was there for him.
Ron’s post covered the importance of saying goodbye to loved ones, both for them and for ourselves. Of course, it can’t always be arranged, especially if geographical distance makes it impossible. However, there was no such thing between my dad and me and that’s why I took it so hard.
|Mom when she was young|
Dad’s sister, my Aunt May, was more like a mother to me than my own; she was a marvellous cook and a real comforter in times of need, always there for me as well as my friends. If ever we were at a loss to know how to spend our time they would
suggest we called on Auntie May. It wasn’t a ‘cakes’
thing, although she did feed us like there was no tomorrow, it was the fact
that she had time for us, talked to us, did things for us, and always made us
welcome. So, when she aged and dementia crept in I was there for her. She and I
would laugh about nothing. If I said the house was falling down she would laugh
... because she didn’t understand. She didn’t have the ability to get cross but
she knew how to laugh over nothing. She was a tonic, even though she wasn’t
aware of it. I would sob when I left the house, knowing that her descent into
unknowingness would soon change to a journey to heaven.
|Dad and May, long, long ago|
I visited her frequently in hospital and when it was time for her to make that journey I held her close and told her that Uncle Ted was waiting for her and that she was to give him my love. I remember she opened her eyes and smiled. Something she hadn’t done in a while. My aunt passed away during the night and I knew ... I just knew. The phone call came early in the morning to break the news. I was so glad that I’d been with her as she prepared to free herself from the restraints of earthly living and go to the place where her husband waited.
Thank you, Ron, for emphasising the importance of saying goodbye to our loved ones.