I keep thinking of the strange naked man waving at me at the hospital

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.

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Alone

I’m alone in my flat, after taking Josh to school. I have three more days leave, including this one. Alone and bored, I played Diablo 3 some more, and my new character I mentioned the other day is now cruising through Torment 6 difficulty, ready to go to Torment 7. But I’m taking a break from playing to write.

A commenter, having read one of the posts about my mother, asked if we were unusually close, and how that came to be… I answered that having her live here brought us closer, but come to think of it, it’s more than that…

Is it not normal to be closer to one’s mother than one’s father? When my father died, it crushed me for a time, but not like this. This is much worse. When I think back, I have many happy memories of childhood. I had a good childhood. And almost every happy memory involves my mother. She was always there for me. She wasn’t perfect, to be sure. Those times when I misbehaved, she would give me a light hiding, one that I learned did not hurt, and would warn me that my father would be mad when he got home that night. But all he ever did was ask me to apologize to my mother. When we went through her things, I found an apology letter I’d written to her when I was about eight years old. She kept it all those years.

So we were always close. I was always able to talk to my mother, about anything, and while my father loved me and I loved him, he was always a little distant. It was to my mother that I went to talk about anything and everything that troubled me.

Ironically, there is only one other person that got as close to me, and that person is Megan – my ex and Josh’s mother. I would have loved to talk to her these last few weeks, but her phone has been off again and I suspect that something in her life is wrong (again). I have spoken to Aishah, Josh’s sister though, when she visited her grandmother. I will get back to this point further on…

Even Josh has raised this subject, not about her, but about mothers. At school, his teachers always assume that every child has a mother, and when mentioning that anything must be given to parents, or discussed with parents, or that parents must be asked for money, they always mention the children’s mothers. This annoys him, because he only has me. But it does highlight the fact that mother normally plays a greater role than father to most children.

So returning to my empty flat was a miserable moment. My mind flashed back to so many memories… every day when I got home from work, she was there, and I was always greeted by the smell of food cooking. At other times like weekends, she’d be sitting on the balcony reading a book, or reading a book on her bed. Every second week I’d take her to the library. But after she died, I had to return her library books and tell the librarian that she’d died. Likewise I took her to her hairdresser once a month, and I went and told the hairdresser that she wasn’t coming back.

I miss all those conversations that we had, and all those that we will never have again. All the comments she made about my boss, when I came home late from work, kept in meetings that ran after hours, I miss those too.

I’ve come to realize that my mother became something more the last few years. After my relationship with Megan ended, after I spent years trying to make it work even though it could not, I lost all interest in dating and pursuing a relationship with anyone else. But I didn’t have to think about it. With both my mother and my son here, there was always company. There was an excuse not to date. I didn’t feel alone or lonely. Now, suddenly I am alone. Suddenly I have nobody to share those most private thoughts and words. It feels strange, and it hurts.

I am not coping well with this grief

It’s after 1AM and in my insomnia I just raided the fridge, settling on six tablespoons of double cream Clover strawberries & cream yoghurt. But in my search I stumbled on the plastic container still containing two nectarines my mother left there. A week before she died earlier this month, she’d asked me to bring a nectarine to the hospital. But seeing them still there now nearly broke me down again.

I’m struggling. Sunday is not Sunday anymore, not like it was. Sunday was the day my parents made a roast, until February 13th 2000 when my father died, on his 57th birthday. Then my mother took up that custom. For a time, I wasn’t around, but after she moved into my flat in 2011, having no place else to go, she brought the custom here. I do not have the strength to continue doing so myself, not yet. Somehow preparing meat, potatoes and vegetables myself will defile the day for me.

I used to hate her fucking potted plants. Everywhere. There are seven or eight of them around the edge of my tiny balcony, and more on the corner piece of furniture in the lounge. She used to call that the knick-knack or something – I forget what. I remember only my name for it when I mocked her: the crap-knack. And there are more plants in the kitchen. I have not been able to make myself get rid of a single plant.

Just a short while before she died, she sat beside me as she often did in the evening, half asleep and half watching me play Diablo 3. I’d recently bought the Necromancer pack, and played my new character through story mode and into adventure mode… she asked how I could see what was going on on the screen… because with this character (unlike my demon hunter that just attacks everything in all directions non-stop), I kill enemies and then raise some of them to fight for me and kill others, which I then raise, and so on… So there are always monsters all over the screen, some of which are on my side. She found it confusing. Today this conversation came back to me, as if she were sitting on the chair beside me.

Again, in my mind’s eye I saw her sitting at the dining table, holding her head in her hands as she struggled to breathe. And I heard her voice when she called me on the day she died, called to tell me what procedure they were going to do. I thought she would be home by Christmas.

This grief. This loss. It’s horrible. If I may give any advice to anyone who might listen… don’t let a parent move back into your house in their old age, don’t get too close, and don’t let them become a dependent to you, if you can possibly help it. Because it hurts more than you might expect when they die.

I’m in Limbo

Last night in my nightmares, I couldn’t breathe properly. I shifted awkwardly between asleep and awake, laying thinking of one memory in particular that haunts me – my mother on that Tuesday night before I dropped her at the hospital on Wednesday morning; my mother sitting at the dining room table after walking from her bedroom to the lounge, just a few meters being enough to leave her out of breath, sitting there panting with her head in her hands. I laid there thinking that, and then shifting back to sleep where I dreamed that I was the one struggling to breathe. Then I woke confused, uncertain if this was a dream or if I really did struggle.

I’ve started wondering if this was really a sensible time to quit cigarettes. My last smoke was quite late on Thursday night, but the craving has been quite intense since then. But it’s not just craving – I’m angry. This anger flares up in response to tiny things that should be insignificant. I don’t remember ever craving meth like this, but I am craving a cigarette. The part of me that wants it begs and pleads, insisting that all I need is one; that I can bum from my neighbour, Mervin downstairs, who normally bums from me. But no! I shut those thoughts down each time, by playing back that mental image of my mother, sitting there with her head in her hands as she struggled to breathe. I hear her voice, as she called me on her last day, a week ago yesterday, to tell me that they would try to drain the fluid from her lung using a needle. I thought I’d see her later that day. They were supposed to help her, not suddenly kill her! That’s why I’m still in shock. And I think of how she died not two hours later, but also that she might have lived much longer if she’d quit smoking sooner. I need to quit and not give in to any cravings, so that I can live longer, for my son.

So I have motivation, but it’s hurting. The more I think about it, the more it hurts.The grief and sense of loss is otherwise not as bad as it was a week ago. It’s still bad, but it’s OK. But the not smoking thing is really fucking me up. Even my sense of the passing of time is different without nicotine. I don’t know how that can be, but some annoying tasks, such as pulling off from a traffic light… seem to take much longer now. The waiting for the lights to change from red to green… seems much longer than it needs to be. I used to take a lot of smoke breaks as well, sometimes before and after doing just about every little thing. Now I have all this extra time and no clue what to do with it.

It’s THAT dreadful day again. 18 years since my father died.

It would have been his 75th birthday today as well. (He died on his 57th.)

I’ll never forget that day. It was a Sunday and I, at 29 years old, was still living with my parents. I hadn’t even bothered learning to drive, because of my crippling anxiety, shyness, and laziness. Dad drove me to work; he would do anything for me.

My brother (two years younger than I and not living there any more) and I had put money together to give Dad a George Foreman Grill and I’d woken up keen to see his reaction to his birthday present, as he loved cooking. I rose excitedly and ran to my parents’ room to wish him a happy birthday, but hardly had the words out of my mouth before my mother urged me not to wish him. “Why?”, I asked. And then I saw something was wrong… He was not well. She’d already called the ambulance more than 45 minutes before. I decided to have a shower; then wait with him.

But before I could get into the shower, Dad asked for my help… He needed to get to the toilet, but couldn’t get up. I had to carry him. It was almost impossible, as he didn’t seem to have any strength in his legs. I asked where the pain was, but his reply was a mumble. I couldn’t understand if he said “nowhere” or “everywhere”. I had never seen my father so weak. I also didn’t know those would be his last words to me. If anyone ever asked what his last words were, that’s all I have. Nothing profound, nothing I could even understand, just a muffled mumble as he tried but failed to describe his pain.

I went to shower. When I got out not five minutes later, I found Dad had somehow managed to walk to the lounge by himself, so that he could sit on the couch and wait for the ambulance. And he was just sitting there. Dead.

I tried to administer CPR, but all that did was lead to a horrible wheezing sound as air escaped from his dead lungs. I sat on the floor, in shock. Later my brother showed up. “It’s too late”, I managed, unable to come up with the words to express anything more. I think he tried CPR too, uselessly. Then maybe an hour later the ambulance showed up. The paramedic took one look and said, “Sorry, we don’t take bodies away.”

After that is a blur. I sent an email to work telling them my father had died, and included the lyrics of The Cure’s All Cats are Grey. This:

I never thought that I would find myself
In bed amongst the stones
The columns are all men
Begging to crush me
No ships sail on the dark deep lakes
And no flags wave me home

In the caves
All cats are grey
In the caves
The texture coats my skin
In the death cell
A single note
Rings on and on and on

The Cure – All Cats are Grey

I remember bits of his funeral. I remember my brother’s girlfriend at that time telling me not to look at her “with those dead eyes”, and I remember Father Tom Nicholson reading my eulogy that I could not, even the words where I asserted that it was not his time and there is no god. I don’t remember what else was in that eulogy, except that it was emotive and used repetition of the word “Daddy” in key places throughout for greater impact, and Father Tom read well enough to pause in all the right places as I intended it to be read.

That night I cried myself to sleep over Dad’s words… he had told my mother, who also didn’t drive, not to worry, that he would still take her to work on the Monday… That’s where he was a better man than I. Everything he did was for us, his family. Unlike me who is selfish… I drew strength from his memory when I quit meth, unlike everybody else who said that they did it for themselves as if they had never done anything for themselves before. When I quit meth, I did so despite loving being on that drug. I quit for others, not myself (and you’d be amazed how often people contradict me when I say this out loud, by the way – as if they know my thoughts better than I do), and used the memory of Dad’s selflessness to inspire me.

I don’t think I was ever the same after that day.

I worry about my son… How will he cope with my death one day? He is far closer to me than I was to Dad, especially since his mother is not in the picture. Josh and I are unusually close, and he is affectionate, unlike me. Every day he tells me he loves me, and wants to be hugged two or three times every day. I do talk about death. Just as I have tried to teach him about the dangers of drugs so that he is prepared and doesn’t repeat my mistakes, I have also tried to prepare him for the inevitability of my death, but one can only do so much. There are some things you can never anticipate until you experience it for yourself. Death of a beloved family member is one of those things.

I struggle to comprehend death

There, I said it. (Wrote it. Whatever.) A couple of days ago (or was it yesterday?)… the futility of existence leaves me wondering if it really matters… an atheist friend wrote a Facebook status about death. This is a subject I think about a lot, probably too much. I commented that I struggle with it, with comprehending the end of my own life and the finality of it, and he replied that he imagines it to be like sleeping, since his mind shuts down when he is asleep.

Well, that comparison doesn’t work for me. I don’t know if my sleep patterns are unusual; I doubt that they are… But when I’m asleep, my brain is active, highly active. Sometimes I lay there thinking about all kinds of things… My problems, my past, problems at work, wonder what I’m going to do about certain things that are on my mind, and so on. I’m an insomniac – this is true… but I don’t only think about those things while I’m awake. I think of them in my sleep as well. Then I wake up, and like dreams, most of those thoughts slip away within seconds, but I’m well aware of how deeply I’ve been thinking in my sleep. My son, and others in the past, have interrupted my sleep to ask me questions… and their amazement is always the same. Even if I have been snoring my head off, I comprehend the questions heard in my slumber, wake up just enough to answer and remember the annoying chat, and continue snoring. Then I might ponder how annoying the interruption was, ponder it even in my sleep, but sleeping I am.

Last night I needed to pee, and thought about it in between my dreams for a while – I don’t know how long… thought about the fact that I needed to wake up and pee; then eventually did at 2:22AM. There’s nothing unusual in this story for me. My brain is especially busy when I’m asleep. It’s been like this for as long as I can remember.

The point is, death is nothing like sleep. It isn’t even like being in a void of eternal darkness. Darkness, even a void, would imply being aware of nothingness. But our brains are the organs in which all our thoughts occur, they are the homes of that abstract thing we call the mind. There is no evidence of anything external to our physical bodies, so when our brains die, our awareness ends. Death is when the individual that I am, when my awareness, which I have both when awake and asleep, comes to an abrupt and final end. There is no void when you are dead. There is not even nothing. You are no longer there to perceive either something or nothing. Death is when you are gone. It’s not like when you are asleep; it’s like the time before you were conceived.

I, and I think everyone else, cannot imagine this. It is human nature, not only to have this overpowering instinct to survive, but to be unable to comprehend the finality of death. So we pretend it isn’t the end. We convince ourselves that after we die, we wake up somewhere else, in some other plane. Call it Heaven. Sorry, but it isn’t so. If you can get past this, understand the harsh reality, even if only intellectually like myself, maybe you can stop believing in bullshit; stop clinging to supernatural, magical fantasies like religion.

Another addict dead

Judging by a Facebook share yesterday, by a counsellor from the rehab I attended in 2010, yet another life has been lost to addiction. It’s different for me this time in that it wasn’t someone from my friends list, so I don’t get to see the RIP posts on their wall… But still.

I won’t see many of those RIP’s anymore. I have almost none of those friends left, and those who remain are stable, I think. But there were two such deaths last year, and quite a few in the years before that, starting the month I left that rehab in March 2010.

And all this happened despite the fact that most of the people I knew from there had already defriended me a long time ago. They didn’t like my atheism posts, and the posts critical of them. I recall one girl in particular, who was a gullible idiot, who had everybody in that rehab anxious because she believed that a schizophrenic man was possessed and was “speaking in demonic tongues”.

That… the belief in the supernatural, is common among them. Ironically every person I know of who died due to their addiction, was a theist who believed not only in god, but also accepted the 12-step plan programs. Every one of them that I know of, who died, was in and out of such a program. I do not know of any other sceptic, from either of the rehabs I attended, not one person who rejected what they were taught there. (The second program I refer to is the outpatient program I attended, as a formality to comply with a court order and get my son back.)

I cannot emphasize enough how glad I am that I did not Facebook friend any of the people I met in the second program; otherwise I’d have a whole new generation of friends who relapse and die.

Anyway, if you are an addict who has had help, whether you believe in the nonsense they teach you in 12 step programs or not, you really need to understand the seriousness of relapse. Every time you go back to active use, you increase the probability of your death. If you’re a heroin addict and don’t stay clean, you will almost certainly die of your addiction. That’s just the way it is. This is your life. It’s the only one you get. Don’t fuck it up.