Today is Sunday, the dreadful day where I smell the ghost of Sunday roast, and miss my mother. Sunday is always the worst.
But another memory haunts me today – the odd image of a naked man sitting up and waving at me in the hospital, a detail I haven’t mentioned to anyone up until now. To put it in context, I have to go back to the day my mother died. And with apologies, I have to refer to one other person by name. Abby, my brother’s ex wife, was my mother’s only other friend at the end.
It was Friday, December 7th 2018 and was always going to be a bad day. The third consecutive day with my mother in hospital, after her bronchoscopy went wrong on the Wednesday, and was also the day of my work’s year end function. So I had to dress up smart for once, and prepare myself for hours of social interaction. I do OK at these things lately – Hell I can even be charming, but it drains me. Just because you can’t see my social anxiety doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Before going to work, I drove to Abby’s house. I’d washed and dried panties and pajamas for my mother, and she had arranged for Abby to bring them to her. This suited me because I thought I’d visit later, during visiting hours. So before going to work, I dropped the bag of underwear at Abby’s house. Then I went to work. The plan was, go to the year end function at 12:00, stay only for two hours, and leave to be able to get to the hospital for visiting hours at 3PM.
At around 10AM my mother called me, and as always apologized for calling me at work. (In retrospect I wish she’d called me more often.) She told me that she’d only just found out the bronchoscopy has gone wrong because she’d had an asthma attack – this was news to both of us because we thought the procedure was done and she was coming home. And she told me that they would try to remove the fluid from her lung by draining it with a needle. (I’m sorry – I have mentioned most of this before but I can’t write it without this context.) I asked if she would be anaesthetized but she didn’t know and she said that they were still going to explain the procedure to her. That part of the conversation is so fresh for me – it’s crazy. I can still hear her voice. When I think of this, it’s like she’s still alive in my head, and it tortures me. I wished her luck and that was that; I had no idea this would be the last time I’d speak to my mother.
I was getting ready to leave for the work year end function at 11:55AM when I got the call from the hospital. All the nursing sister would tell me was, “Her situation has changed and you need to get here as soon as possible”. I feared the worst but did not know. It was better not knowing.
This (and the paragraph about dropping panties off), I have not written before because I didn’t want to mention Abby by name. I drove home as fast as I could. I didn’t want to drive to the hospital but decided to Uber in case the worst happened and I might be too emotional to drive. So I went home and checked on Josh, who was already on school holiday but playing with friends who live in the same complex. Then I walked outside the complex and ordered the Uber. It turned out the nursing sister had tried phoning Abby as well, since my mother had listed her also as next of kin. But they hadn’t gotten through to her because she’d lost signal… after already arriving at the hospital and getting the lift to the floor where my mother was. So Abby was already there. She called me twice; once after I got home to let me know that my mother had gone into respiratory arrest and then cardiac arrest but they were trying to resuscitate her, and once again just after I ordered the Uber, she told me my mother had died.
Conversations with Uber drivers can be awkward already, but imagine the talk we had after I found out, in that two minutes while waiting for the Uber to take me to my mother in hospital, that my mother had died. I don’t know why she had to tell me like that. I was on the way, and it would have been better to find out from the hospital staff. But regardless, that’s what happened. She was overcome with emotion too, so I don’t blame her. It was a horrible way to find out though.
After the long walk to the other side of the hospital, the staff asked me to wait in the room with Abby. They were still removing tubes and so on so that I could say goodbye to my mother. Seeing her body was heartbreaking. She was still warm, a reminder that if I’d put her before my work, I might have seen her alive one more time. I will never put work before family again.
Then, I stood at the nurses station with a few forms to sign, and collect her handbag. The surreal moment that gave this post’s title came then. Abby was to my left, facing at an angle towards me and the hospital staff, who were behind a desk to my right, facing half toward me and half toward her. But several meters directly to the front, at such an angle that only I could see, was the door to the ward. As if in a dream, a naked man sat up on his bed at the back of the ward and started waving at me. Frantically he waved and waved, though to me in my daze after seeing my mother’s dead face, looking at her chest hoping for it to rise and fall but of course it did not, the man was moving in slow motion. Hesitantly, sheepishly, I raised my left hand and waved back. “Hi, buddy”.
It was as if I’d gone into one of those cheesy horror movies. The man was a ghost that only I could see. Indeed, in my younger days I might have convinced myself of some supernatural significance. I’d have believed it was no coincidence that only I could see him; that only I could see him. Yet now I wonder stupidly what he wanted… Maybe he was a friend to my mother in those few days and wanted to give his condolences; maybe he had a message for me; maybe he was just a lonely old man who waved at everybody. I’ll never know.