Friday, February 4, 2011

A Mother Moment

I don't talk about my mother here very often here, nor my family for that matter, but this deserved a mention.

My mother's family are a funny bunch. Most of the family have a talent that they've cultivated that others would never even recognise.

My uncle was a doctor - a country doctor for over fifty years. His diagnostic skills and beside manner was reknown from Adelaide to Mount Gambier.

My aunt was a midwife for forty years. She's seen around 20,000 people into the world in her days. Both she and my uncle have the Order of Australia for services to medicine and midwifery.

One of my cousins works in a hospice, helping those who are dying do so with dignity. How she does this I can never fathom. She's such a gentle soul - and she is wonderful at her job. Not many people could to what she does.

Another cousin runs the anaesthesia unit at a major Australian hospital. He keeps people safe when they are at there most vulnerable. Doctors who put you to sleep for operations are up there with brain surgeons as the best and brightest. Most family gatherings have conversations with him starting with,"Still sending people to sleep, Thom?" I don't know how he does it either. Too clever by half that one.

Others have these talents - not as obvious, but they are there. Cops, nurses, academics, priests. outreach workers - people in the caring professions. They've seen  it all, though you'd never expect from this group of quiet, unassuming, intelligent people.

Hell, my sister runs a childcare centre. Put her up for sainthood too if she can't have a medal.

Me, I'm a holistic healer by vocation. I know that most of my talent is a god given gift. Some of my skills have been cultivated, the rest is up to the grace of the universe.

And just like my Aunt, uncle, and various cousins, my mother also has a talent.

Mum trained as a nurse in the sixties. She was a theatre sister for many years and when we moved to Myponga, she worked in the local hospital in theatre, accident and emergency and geriatric wards.

Mum's special talent is that she helps people die.

No, she doesn't shove a pillow over their faces, nor do a Philip Nietschke and administer a cocktail of drugs. No nooses, garottes, shotguns or rat bait either.

Mum has the gentle art of sitting next to people while they gently pass down pat. She was there for my dad, her father, my dad's mother, my stepdad's mother as well as countless people over the years. If somebody was hanging on at whatever hospital she was working, they'd send her in and she'd hold their hand as they left this world. Normally it didn't take to long once she got in there. She says that half of it was giving them permission to go.

She's a bit like that cat that was on the news a few months ago that sits on people's beds as they die.

It's a bit of a strange talent - probably not one you'd ever want to brag about, but as it is often stated in our family lore, it's an honour to witness a birth or a death, human or animal. I so agree with this, as mucky, unpleasant, bloody, smelly or painful as it might me. Being filled with medicos, our family doesn't flinch when it comes to death, or birth, or pain for that matter. We're a pretty matter-of-fact bunch. Just something you have to get on with really. And don't ask for sympathy. You've got to be on medical grade morphine with a limb dangling from a strap of skin before you get sympathy on my family. (Bloody Methodists)

So tonight I called Mum to see how my aunt was progressing.

"Still out to it. Still in intensive care. No improvement. Breathing tube. Away with the pixies." she said glumly.
"Your uncle is getting a lot of support from friends, but I'm not sure how he's coping. Your stepdad and I are going down tomorrow to see him, do his ironing and cook him dinner. He's coping, but it's hard."
"I'm sure it is. Are you going to see Aunty?"
"Not much point," said Mum, "She doesn't recognise anybody - can't even squeeze your hand when you ask her to, but she's not unconscious either. What's the point?"
"It is all so sad."
"If only she'd either come out of this, or die. Make up her mind." Mum said sadly.
Quietly, I agreed with her.

My aunt has been her best friend since nursing school. They were each other's bridesmaids, my Aunt has been like another mother to me. As much as I don't want to see her go, I don't want her to be in limbo either. This waiting is the hard bit.

"Mind you, Mum, I don't know if visiting would be a good idea."
"Why not?"
"Well, you know, your talent. If you go in it might be seen as pointing the bone."
"I never thought of that."

The wheels of her brain were chugging away. I could hear them.

"I might see if we can see her in the next few days. Might help her go one way or the other..."

What was it Shakespeare said in "Measure for Measure"? "Oh, it is excellent to have a giant's strength, bit it is tyrannous to use it like a giant." Think I said a bit much...

My thoughts and prayers are with my aunt.

As for Mum, she trotted of to have her dinner. I'm sure she's discussing with my stepdad the ethics of visiting my aunt - and whether a visit might help release her from limbo one way or the other.

I shouldn't laugh - but what else are you supposed to do in such a situation?


Kath Lockett said...

You should laugh. Dying is macabre and the macabre is often funny. So many times I've found myself laughing and been glad of it, especially if the other choice was to cry.

River said...

I actually think it's a great idea. Being in limbo can't be fun, even if you don't know you're there.