Death can bring a new lease on life

Sometimes the brightest light comes from the darkest place. When I first heard that phrase I loathed it, although I love the song and most everything else by Wayne Hussey, but lately I’ve been thinking that maybe it can be true.

My mother’s recent death devastated me. I’m still not over it, although it is getting better. Just yesterday I found her artificial sweetener used for tea and coffee in the cupboard and remembered how much I miss her curry. She made it differently to everyone else, having learned an old fashioned technique of dissolving curry powder in a little vinegar from her grandmother. The end result is that all other curry tastes powdery to me while hers was stronger, since the spices permeated deep into the meat. All this, I got just from opening the kitchen cupboard. There are so many little things that trigger sad (and sometimes fond) memories for me lately.

But there is one positive thing that has now come out of her death… I realize that I’d lost my way a little, in terms of my priorities – lost sight of what is important. Though I try to be a good parent to my son, lately I didn’t have enough energy left for him after going to work too early, and putting too much of my life into that. Work is a necessary evil. But putting everything into it? Putting your all into a job that enriches others where you get underpaid and a pat on the back for making them millions, but a reprimand for human error, putting in your all to be treated like little more than a slave… that’s no good.

I’ve reached a point where it is clear what is important. And what isn’t.

My son is important. He is the most important part of my life. I’d like to be there for his sister too when I can, but I’m not going further into that today. The point I’m trying to make is that family is important. Our loved ones should be our focus. Our time with them is limited and we need to make the most of the time we have. Treasure every moment because it can end at any time, and don’t waste personal time being a slave to anyone else making their fortune.

I’m not saying work isn’t important. It is. I will redouble my efforts to ensure that my work is the highest quality, and remain as helpful as I can to those with whom I work, but only within certain boundaries. The purpose of work is to earn money to survive, to finance my personal life. If work crosses over that line and interferes with my personal time, it has defeated its purpose.

From now on, my focus is on my family.

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.

The cycle of sadness

Yesterday I apologized for writing another post about my mother on Facebook, and people replied not to apologize… One man even said he loved those posts because it expresses exactly how he feels about his mother who died six years ago. It’s weird how my most personal posts, the ones I at first expected to be ignored, are always the ones that people share the most and identify with. We aren’t that different after all. So maybe reading this can be as therapeutic as writing it.

I just made myself breakfast, and in the process discovered a large container of cereal that only my mother ate. Likewise there is a calcium supplement and some kind of Berocca, a brand name and also a supplement, laying on the kitchen counter. I have not been able to find the will to move or remove them.

Last week I finally arranged for a helper to come clean the flat, which seems weird because I have never in my life had a maid. That’s something my parents would do when I was a child. In the process of cleaning up, she found two cups in the fridge, one filled with leftover gravy and the other cheese sauce, because my mother had cooked a roast for us as usual that Sunday before she died last month. Those two cups are still in the drying up rack a week later. I have not the strength to remove them.

The above sums up how I have felt these last 4 weeks. I remain in shock. She died so quickly… every day I recall that last phone call to me at work when she told me the procedure that would be carried out in the hospital. I was to attend my work’s year end function, and had planned to leave early so that I could be on time for hospital visiting hours. My only worry was that she might go home before that, or be in transit while I left the work function. Her death, only two hours after that call, took me by such surprise, it remains fresh. Every day, I replay that call in my head. Every day I hear her voice telling me that the bronchoscopy had failed because she had an asthma attack, and that they would try to remove the fluid from her lung with a needle. Every day I relive the shock of her sudden death. I expected her to be home soon, and certainly before Christmas, and it’s like I can’t move forward… I’m stuck in December 7th 2018, reliving those hours over and over again.

Tomorrow Josh starts grade 5. I must still iron his clothes and get fresh bread so that I can prepare lunch for him. I’ll be on leave still the rest of this week, and must also call Harold, who runs his lift service, to say I will drive Josh to and from school the rest of the week. I must also find out about aftercare, since my mother no longer being here means I can’t let Josh come home and be alone while I am at work (from next week onwards). I may have to cancel the lift service completely, and then leave early from work every day to collect him from school in future. As with everything else, I think of these things, the practical things to do today. But then later I will remember to be sad again. It’s a cycle I’m repeating… distract myself with everyday life and menial tasks, then my thoughts wonder back to that phone call, or something else, some random object triggers a memory, and the cycle of sadness repeats.

I have more to write, lots more, but will save it for another day.

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.

I am not strong

I’m hardly coping with the loss of my mother. The last couple of days my brother helped out, first with sorting through her things and then with the unpleasant process of meeting the undertaker so that her body could be released, and organising the cremation. He made it clear that he’s doing this to Josh and I, not for her. Their relationship had deteriorated beyond repair, sadly. I’m not going to write anything further about that (It’s nobody’s business), and I do appreciate the help he and his wife have been the last couple of days.

But as for me – I am lost. My relationship with my mother was not that great until she moved in here in 2011, but since then we have grown close, closer than ever before. I downloaded series to watch with her and Josh; I took her to the movies; I discussed every little detail of my life with her. Sometimes I didn’t like her advice; sometimes I didn’t take it; sometimes we argued, and sometimes I took her for granted. But she was there for me. In the years of 2011 to 2013 when I was still struggling with addiction, she stood by me. (OK, she had to because she was staying in my place where I paid the rent and bought the food, but still.) She supported me emotionally when nobody else would. She was my only support. And now she’s gone.

Just the night before I took her to hospital, I called her to see a funny video I’d found on Facebook. In the last couple of months, we watched Westworld Season 2 together. She was looking forward to the final season of Game of Thrones.

She was my rock. She did more for me than anyone ever has. I depended on her for so much. When everything else was shit and my life fell apart, at least I had my mother to stand by me. And now she’s gone.

“Be strong”, people say. I probably shouldn’t criticize… Of all the things people say, that’s probably the best one. But it reminds me of when people congratulate me on getting out of some terrible situations in my years of addiction. “You’re strong”, they say. But I am not.

I am not strong. I am weak. I got through addiction and through some abusive situations, that seemed quite hopeless, not because of strength, but simply because I had to. I chose to live on, to drag myself through another day, then another, another, and another until it didn’t hurt as much any more. I persevered because I had to, not because of being strong.

How fragile is human life?

Yesterday my mother died suddenly. I’m not coping with the loss very well at all.

This has all been a shock. Two weeks ago, I dropped her off at Edenvale Hospital before going to work. It was just supposed to be a checkup, but I found later that day she’d been admitted. She had an enlarged heart due to fluid on her lungs. They also picked up something on her chest but didn’t know what it was, so she was scheduled to go to Johannesburg General hospital for a test, a bronchoscopy. But things did not go as planned.

They let her come home, and she was scheduled to go for the test this past Tuesday. I dropped her off at 6AM, again at Edenvale hospital, and their “messenger” as they call him took her to Johannesburg General hospital. But she hadn’t been told not to eat breakfast, so she had to return home. The messenger berated her, bullied her, telling everyone it was her fault. This was the second time he did so; the prior week another test had to be aborted because of a seafood allergy (which she had disclosed) which left her sensitive to the drip. So on Tuesday after making her walk from one side of the hospital to another (It’s a huge hospital.) because he parked on the wrong side, he let her wait three hours for the transport to go back to Edenvale. Is this how you treat a 70 year old woman who is struggling to breathe because of blood clots on her lungs? is it fun to bully an easy victim?

So on Wednesday, I took her back to the hospital again. They took her back to the larger hospital, where the bronchoscopy had to be abandoned because of a complication caused by her reaction to the medication. But I wasn’t notified. After work on Wednesday, I went to Edenvale hospital, but nobody knew where she was, so I then had to go look for her at Joburg Gen myself. It turned out she was in ICU, where she stayed overnight. After that amount of stress and no sleep, I stayed home on Thursday – I could not go to work in such a state of mind and without having had any sleep.

But on Thursday she was OK. She felt much better, was happy and in good spirits; she even joked with the staff there and made friends.

I went to work on Friday, dressing smarter than my usual jeans and t-shirt because we had an office year end function that afternoon. I planned to attend, and then leave early because visiting hours are 3 to 5PM.

She called me around 10AM to let me know that the bronchoscopy had not been done. Until then, we thought it had and that we simply had to wait two weeks for the results. I was under the impression that she was coming home. But instead, another procedure was going to be done where they would drain the fluid from her lung sing a needle. I asked if she would be anaesthetized but she told me she didn’t know because they had yet to explain it to her. I wished her luck, not knowing that this was the last time I would speak to her.

At 11:55AM I got the call to get to the hospital as soon as possible, but by the time I got there, she was already dead. She had again reacted badly to the medication, went into respiratory arrest, and while they tried to resuscitate her, went into cardiac arrest. They did resuscitate her after 30 minutes, but did not manage to wake her, and after another 30 minutes, and her not responding, they gave up.

The whole thing has been a nightmare. It happened too quickly, and I am shattered. My son and I have depended on her for so long now, but that’s not the worst part… I’ll find a way to cope with all the tasks that need to be done, but so far, I have not been able to make myself go through her things. Apart from her room, her toothbrush is still hanging in the bathroom, as is her towel and her toiletries. Her writing pad is on the dining room table, and I cannot bring myself to disturb those things. It seems sacrilegious somehow.

This is so much more difficult because of her staying with my son and I. In the years before this, we were not so close. But now, having her stay here these seven years had brought us closer together, and I was closer to her now than ever in my childhood.

How fragile are we, that life can so abruptly end? No time to say goodbye or even, “I love you, mommy”. There’s a part of me that fears that it is somehow because I didn’t tell her that I was worried in that last phone call, that somehow if she knew how much I cared and how worried I was, she might still be alive. I know it’s not true, but this part of me believes that if I’d said, “Please don’t die” that maybe she wouldn’t have.

Reflection

As time marches slowly towards my three years clean in September, I spend hours of every night soaked in insomniac reflection. Some of it good, and some… not so good.

There are things that I miss; a life I could have had if only I’d cleaned up that much sooner. It’s painful reliving those memories, painful that they are vivid enough to feel like I can go back in time, but cannot change anything. It’s like I’m Ebenezer Scrooge, visited only by the Ghost of Christmas Past.

There are so many things I want to write about, too many. This is not the post about reflection that I want to write, because there is too much for me even to know where to start. So until I get it together enough in my head, this is the post about the post that I have not written.

It’s a reminder, in a way, of the problems I had in the past. There were so many, I knew they needed fixing, but was so overwhelmed I did not know where or how to start, so I did nothing. It’s the story of my life actually, in that it has happened at work too. When there is too much wrong to make right, I get lost trying to find where to start, and so I do nothing. I drift along aimlessly and hopelessly as everything gets worse.

Things could have been so different. I was with a girl who I thought was the love of my life. And I regret that things didn’t work out that way. I miss the way things were. Not the drugs or the crazy life, but I miss having the little cottage that we lived in. I miss the year 2007 when Megan was pregnant with Josh, miss our two cats and our dog, and the happy life I thought we had and would continue to have. I miss getting home from work and the two of us taking our dog for a walk every evening, down by the field and around the lake. Two years later it would all be gone, and I regret not fixing it while I could. (If I could. Could I?) I miss the life we should have had. Maybe it wasn’t real.