Being there at the end of somebody’s life feels like standing in a very disorganised airport departure lounge.
You’re there together, waving each other off, drying your tears – after all, this trip is to a far-off place with no return ticket baby – and just when you’re feeling relatively at peace about it, then the announcement comes through that the flight has been delayed.
“For how long?” you enquire.
“We don’t know.”
“Well who does know?”
“Will it ever leave?”
“Oh yes. Eventually. IT HAS TO.”
Except of course, that it’s not really a departure lounge. You’re not sitting opposite each other at an overpriced cafe killing time drinking lattes and buying last-minute treats for them to take on the plane.
This is much more messy.
I have done things I never imagined. Yesterday my littlest Cassidy accidentally spat a full mouthful of toothpaste all over his little cousin Bonnie while they were brushing before bed – I didn’t even bat an eyelid because that was BY FAR NOT THE GROSSEST THING TO HAPPEN IN THIS HOUSEHOLD.
But each time something full on happens, my strategy is to simply breathe and utter: “There’s one off the bucket list!”
I have to laugh. I have to smile. For me, yes, but most importantly, for her. It’s occured to me that this is exactly what “giving somebody their dignity” means. It’s not pulling faces or holding your nose or rolling your eyes when duty calls: it’s smiling in the face of all that. Hugging in the face of all that. Kissing in the face of all that. To let that person know that it’s all okay. That you’re okay. That I’m okay. It’s all good.
I really feel like this chapter is one of the greatest of my whole life: I know it’s cheese ball, but it’s true: Mum is teaching me, in her last grand lesson, how to REALLY love somebody.
A couple of months ago Mum was very fixated on recounting the events of her very early years. She was especially focused on her relationship with her own mother; trying to understand it, to process it, to find forgiveness and compassion for it. Without divulging the personal details, Mum did not feel like her mother loved her, or even liked her.
So now, when Mum calls me “Mum” – as is happening increasingly often – I don’t even correct her.
Because I want her to leave this world knowing that she was loved. She was liked. And if I can give her a bit of the motherly love she showed me, then that seems like a pretty damn good goodbye gift to take on her impending journey.
Whenever it departs for real.