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.

Weird memories, and I wonder why we collect unnecessary stuff

Today is my second day at home, as advised by a doctor. It’s not so bad – it was just a bit of gastro and some other stuff that needed checking out. I just got home from a medical center where they did some blood tests.

My main issue is that I am always tired. As in, I get up early but also fade too early and I can sleep any time. It’s 10:55Am now and I could go sleep for a few hours quite easily. So it worries me – besides it being very annoying and leading me to drink too many cups of coffee at work, I need to know if something is wrong. But that’s not why I’m writing this.

The medical center where they did the tests came with an eerie sense of familiarity, from the crummy waiting room to the dreary office to the nursing sister with her old fashioned hair (in memes her name is Karen and she’s always calling the manager) who took smoke breaks in the parking lot behind the offices. It was only when I made the payment that I realized why…

They already had my name, ID number, and cellphone number. I had been there before, back at the end of 2010, after Megan and I relapsed and my brother insisted on taking us for blood tests. Quite unnecessary of course, as I always told the truth. A year or so after that, I liked dealing with the social worker at child welfare because she understood me – if she asked me to do a test I’d simply tell her there was no need because I’d test positive for meth. Funny how they always took my word then, but would probably not if I said I was clean. Meanwhile in reality, I always tell the truth about this. So if I say I’m clean and have been since September 2013, it’s because that is the truth. I was always open about my meth use, and likewise am open about sobriety. But I digress…

It was interesting to be back there for completely different reasons. I spoke with the nursing sister about the past, about Josh, about my mother’s recent death… It was nice to talk to someone, even a stranger. I don’t have that – with my mother gone there is no adult here to talk to at home. There isn’t even anyone to give me birthday or Christmas presents – she was the only one who still did. Soon it will be 2 months since she died, on the day after my brother’s 45th birthday. I wonder if I should wish him? He didn’t wish me last October (and I think he was angry with me at the time) but now we are talking and getting along again. So I wonder if I should… Ironically he hates birthdays; I’m the one to whom they have always been important.

The point of this post – and sorry it isn’t much to save for the last paragraph or two, is the old woman who had blood tests before me made such a fuss of getting the payment done, getting the document for her medical aid, and getting the piece of paper for her “records at home”, it made me think of my mother again. She had three large boxes of records going back twenty years. I don’t think she even knew how much she had because some of it was never even unpacked when she moved here. But I found them and went through them the other day. I had to throw everything out.

We keep all these things. They seem important. Pieces of paper that mean so much to us. But then we die and those things are left behind. None of it matters. None of it means anything.

I too am a hoarder. But I need to stop collecting rubbish that will one day bring nothing but tears to my son when he sifts through years of crap after I’m dead. It would be better if I got rid of everything that isn’t really important. I’ trying to make things better for him when he grows up, be there for him, but it’s difficult when I am so miserable and so very tired all the time.

Lately I’m struggling

Lately my emotions are all over the place. I randomly remember my mother, a call made to me at work, a conversation at home, the words every night when Josh called out to her… “Goodnight granny”… “Night Josh, sleep tight”… “You too”… and it breaks me. It’s like she’s still alive for a moment, and then the memory of her death last month hits me again. And again. Every time it hurts. I remember her body, still warm, when I eventually made it to the hospital that day – and then the realization that her body was reduced to ashes laying in a box in the lounge cupboard.

Josh isn’t making this any easier. Some days he doesn’t listen to anything I say, anything at all. Some days he flat out refuses to do even the simplest thing. Tonight I sent him to bed without supper after he refused to eat it when I requested. Then I gave in to him and let him get up after half an hour.

In the kitchen stands the blender she bought to make smoothies in October, bought and hardly used. The kitchen cupboards are packed full of her neatly labelled containers. Even the artificial sweetener that only she used. Fat lot of good it did to cut out sugar, huh? Her cake of personal face soap lies under a fine layer of dust on the right hand side of the bathroom basin. I’ve run out of other food and had to shop weekly to replace it, but still have 12 fucking litres of milk because they last forever now, and two days before she died, she bought six that I didn’t know about while I was at work.

Mostly it’s that last phone call she made to me the morning before she died. I was going to visit her in hospital, and would have seen her alive once more if she could just have lived a few hours more. I wonder pointlessly… If the hospital staff realized that her reaction that prevented the bronchoscopy from working was to the medication, then why use similar medication for the procedure that ended up accidentally killing her? But thinking about that changes nothing. Sure, she might have lived longer. But she didn’t.

I torture myself thinking about how things might have been different. A thousand little things, done differently over time have a thousand different effects and each action leads to a slightly different future. So many things could have saved her but none of them did.

It’s after midnight. Lately, if I stay up this late, my thoughts will keep me awake until after four.

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.

A shit end to a shit year

In two days it will be two weeks since my mother died. For the next couple of days, my son will be sleeping over with his cousins at my brother’s place. Alone at home, I expected to be moping around morbidly. But I’m not. I’m OK. That makes it worse somehow.

I’m not used to cooking every day, because I haven’t been. There’s a McDonalds within walking distance, and I’ve been wasting too much money there. But apart from random momentary lapses into the time machine of memory, I’ve gotten used to my mother being gone. This leaves me feeling guilty.

At least nobody has said, “It was her time”. She was supposed to come home that same day; all we knew was there were blood clots on her left lung and that she had to be tested at the hospital. They were supposed to diagnose her, not kill her. So no, don’t tell me it was her fucking time.

My mother never liked Christmas, and now neither do I. Most wonderful time of the year, suck my sweaty balls… I didn’t even get her recipe for traditional English trifle, or more importantly, the stuffing she used on the turkey. Most of all, I will never talk to her again.

Tomorrow night it will be a week since I quit smoking cigarettes. I have succeeded, and I know I will never smoke again, just as I knew I would never use meth again within days of quitting five years ago. I should feel proud, shouldn’t I? But I feel nothing.

It’s now the 19th December 2018. That means four days ago, my son was back with me for three years already. I’d been looking forward to this for months. It’s huge. I was planning on writing about that, writing about how happy we are, and how close we are. (And we are close.) But now I don’t feel.

The irony now is, I’m not that sad about my mother’s death – I’ve accepted the unpleasant fact that she’s gone. Now, I feel sad for not feeling sad. Crazy, huh?

It’s no longer about going through the day, and finding something I want to tell her, and then remembering she’s dead so I can’t. Instead, I find these things I would normally share with her, but I’m well aware that she’s gone, so it hurts. Tonight, there’s a comedy starring Tommy Lee Jones on TV. She loved that man. It’s those little things that jump out and remind me that life is shit.

We’ll be fine, Josh and I. But can this year be fucking over already? I think I’m almost done with mourning, and despite the sombre tone of this post, this dark mood and these dark posts will be gone soon. Everyone and everything dies, even grief.

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.