How do you prepare for a last Goodbye?
I probably never knew, and I certainly don’t know now. Even though I’ve tried at least 4 times now.
Somehow, Mum knew how to do it beautifully.
On the Wednesday before Mum died, Suzie had popped in to see Mum and Dad at home. During that visit Mum told Suzie that it was time for her to take the things from Mum’s sewing room. This was a big deal, as she had previously held onto her beloved fabric and thread and buttons and ribbons and patterns and machines, even though she could no longer create with them.
Suzie, knowing what a big deal it was for Mum to say that, burst into tears. Mum gave her a big hug and said “Don’t cry Suzie. What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll die and be in heaven with Jesus. I’ll be ok. Please don’t cry for me”. Goodbye.
Then, on the Saturday night when she had been taken to hospital, Mum was very clearly in a space of knowing her time with us was limited. I could see it and feel it too, although I didn’t want to believe it.
Mum, amazingly, knew just exactly what to say to deadbolt the door on some very old wounds between us. It also gave me the space to apologise for the ways that I had hurt her and Dad all those years ago. We held hands, me in tears, sharing how glad we were that we had found our way back to each other. Goodbye.
That same night, I saw Mum say a very long and lingering “thank you” to her sister, Yvonne. I knew it was I love you, I’m sorry and goodbye, all rolled into one. Goodbye.
Then, on Sunday morning, Bronwyn arrived after she and her new husband drove 4 hours to catch the first available flight to Brisbane. Mum said to Bronwyn “I’m so glad I could see you married”. It was Mum’s wish to know that Bronwyn was married, so that she would know that Bronwyn would be loved and supported in her own life. Goodbye.
Dad has since told me that Mum said to him at the hospital, “Darling, now you can travel the world”. Goodbye.
Mum said goodbye, with just exactly the words that expressed what she knew we each needed to hear from her, without once uttering the word “Goodbye”.
It feels like I have said so many Goodbyes to Mum.
On the Saturday night we were asked to go home, and to leave Mum at hospital. Before we left, doctors had just taken Mum’s DNR (do not resuscitate) instructions. I gave Mum a hug and a kiss, I told Mum I loved her, and I said goodbye. I certainly hoped it wasn’t going to be my last goodbye, but it was definitely goodbye, just in case.
Then, on Sunday, as the day progressed, it was clear that Mum was leaving this life. We checked with the hospital about the arrangements for visiting hours for us as Mum’s family, in light of her condition. We were told that visiting hours finished at 8pm, and after that time 2 people could stay with Mum. We agreed that Dad and Suzie would stay with Mum that night.
When I said goodbye to Mum that Sunday night, I thought it could be the last time that I would see her alive.
I hugged her. I kissed her. I cried over her. I thanked her for being my Mum and I told her I loved her. Well, I think I did. In reality, I have no idea what I actually said. But I knew that I was expressing with my every essence, Goodbye, to my Mum.
Then immediately I felt so stupid. My brain threw me the thought that I’m not a doctor and so maybe I didn’t really understand what was going on. I remember saying “I’m so sorry Mum. I’ll see you in the morning”. I walked out of her hospital room in heaving sobs because I knew that was never going to happen.
Then, once we were home and our children were sleeping in their beds, I got the phone call to let me know that Mum was gone. I drove back to the hospital, and spent some more time with my Mum. My Mum, lying in a hospital bed, her life force no longer in her body. I rubbed her cheek, I spoke to her some more, I cried even more than I imagined possible, I hugged her and once again I said goodbye.
Then a few days later, we held what I keep calling a funeral, but was really a memorial service. In front of family and friends, for another and very public time, I said goodbye to my Mum.
But even with all of those goodbyes, I am now preparing for the very final Goodbye.
On Saturday morning, just one day short of a month since Mum died, we will be releasing my Mum’s ashes. My Dad, my sisters and I are going to stand together, to say our final goodbye.
I heard Suzie say today “once that happens, she will really be gone”.
I don’t know what I feel about this last goodbye. Sitting here tonight, I feel quite disconnected from her ashes. They are not my Mum. Well, obviously they are, but they are not. My Mum wrote in beautiful handscript, she baked and sewed and belly laughed, and worried far too much about what other people thought of her, and loved nothing more than having her “chickens” around her.
But it seems, that once again, I will be gathering with my family, to say goodbye to her.
I think this time, I will not say goodbye.
Instead I will start with thank you Mum.
Then I will say I believe you would not want us to be stuck in this suspended reality without you. I believe you would want us to keep living and loving. Without you, but always having you with us.
Or maybe, I will simply say Goodbye.
But even this final Goodbye will not stop me from talking to my Mum.
Mum, will you keep listening if I keep talking?