On Sunday in the middle of lunch with the in-laws I had a phone call from my mother’s nursing home. ‘She’s very poorly with no pulse. I’ve called an ambulance.’ I couldn’t go straight away so my sister drove down and spent the night at the hospital, holding mum’s hand while they tried to make her comfortable and wait for the inevitable.
The next day at 1pm she died from a stomach infection. I tore down the motorway and arrived at the ward. The curtains round her bed were closed and a nurse took my hand. ‘I’m so sorry – your mother passed away ten minutes ago.’ My sister was sitting next to her bed stroking her waxy limp hand. ‘She wouldn’t have recognised you. Her eyes were fixed and dilated all night.’ I was too late. Dad had gone for a walk. He had to be doing things. I didn’t blame him.
It was very quiet. My sister was red eyed and pale from her vigil. Mum was curled up on her side, one hand resting under her chin like a sleeping child. She was so thin. Still warm, but growing cooler. Skin buttery soft and waxy pale. Hands small with long fingers. A wedding ring that she said we could use oil or soap to pull off her finger. Neither of us wanted to do that. We left the ring on. One of us on either side of the bed, listening to voices, shuffling feet.
I could hear her voice. Her words in the will she made before having a hip operation. She wrote: ‘Get a WRITTEN QUOTE or they will rip you off. And don’t bother with an expensive casket – cardboard will be fine. If you waste money on my casket I’ll come back and haunt you.’
I pulled a beef sandwich out of my bag for my sister – her favorite. She couldn’t eat it. A young doctor arrived and pronounced her dead. He told us about how to get hold of the death certificate – the first in a blur of instructions about what to do next. We drove back home to find dad in the middle of a series of calls. ‘No tears’ he said. ‘She’s not in limbo anymore.’
Today in a frenzy of activity, we rang people, spoke to a funeral director and went through mum’s clothes. Her engagement ring which I put on. My sister took the bracelet she wore on her wedding day. We packed up her clothes and took them to a local charity shop. We answered calls.
Then we realised we’d given all her clothes away leaving her nothing to be cremated in. The only things we hadn’t given away were beach ware. Visions of mum in her coffin wearing a swimsuit floated in front of us and we began to laugh.
I haven’t cried much yet. There’s too much paperwork to do. I’m glad she’s released from the limbo, the half life she was living. But the finality of it hasn’t hit me yet.