Secrets, Lies & Chat

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Say It Loud, Say It Clear

I keep hearing a song on the radio, almost every day, which is very relevant to my life. Some of the words, and I quote, “I wasn’t there that morning, when my father passed away, I didn’t get to tell him, all the things I had to say” – or similar anyhow, touch me deeply.

I listen to the words of that song and often think that every person in the world should hear it every day, no matter where they live, no matter what language they speak. How many of us have, too late, realised that things we should have said to the important people in our lives, we didn’t say, for one reason or another? It’s too late once that person has died; the window of opportunity that may fleetingly have opened has gone, perhaps never to open again or to constantly be ignored in our rush through life.

In my case I have a double whammy. My father passed away suddenly in 1990. I didn’t say many of the things I should have. It was taken for granted he would be there forever or that the day of parting was a long way off. He knew I loved him and yet I should have told him more often that I did. He deserved that. Something cold is in my heart that makes it hard for me to say those words, except to my children and my granddaughter. It seemed that I didn’t need to say things to Dad, as there was a bond between us that could never be broken. But now I know; the words should have been spoken, and often.

Mum passed away last December. Not suddenly, like Dad. Death was at her door for a long time, and yet there was no window of opportunity open to me by the time I realised I had things to say, and needed to say. Dementia is a cruel disease and can strike anyone. Mum slipped into it slowly, so slowly that no one realised what was happening to her, until it was too late. Forgetfulness? A sign of old age, everyone gets there eventually. My visits to Mum over the last five years left very little scope for me to say much to her at all. Most of the time she didn’t know who I was, or if she did, she chose not to acknowledge that she did. I was angry with her and wondered if she was doing it on purpose, just another way to continue the trend that existed throughout our life from my earliest memories.

I would fly home depressed after every visit. Sometimes it would take me a couple of days after arrival to force myself to visit her; I felt guilt, sadness, depression, and anger. I wondered why I bothered flying to see her three or four times a year when I received very little back from her. Not even a hello, or a goodbye, or a smile, or a kiss. I didn’t understand what was happening to her and thought only of how I felt, not of how she was.

In the last two years or so, I’ve done a lot of soul searching and spent time thinking about my mother’s life. Losing her first-born son at the tender age of three. Spending those three years living a life filled with the woes of a child who knew no happiness. The harshness of that era with a World War raging. The resultant hardships of having little money, food, clothing or assets. Women in those days, well a lot of them, stayed up at night scrubbing lino floors while everyone else went to bed. They spent untold hours every day hand washing clothes, cooking meals with meat that needed to be cooked slowly for hours so it could be eaten, making something out of nothing so their children could have clothes to wear. Lining up for food stamps, crockery, anything at all they needed for half an existence. I knew none of that, although I was born at the end of the War in 1945. I don’t remember any of it so I can’t feel it.

Because of the severeness of my brother’s health, caused by German measles during early pregnancy, he had to be taken frequently to hospital for treatment. Having no car, my mother travelled by train. People stared at her, cursed her, because she had this seemingly badly behaved child who screamed all the time. His eyesight was so poor that he wore little glasses with brown paper over the lenses to protect his eyes from light. His visits to the hospital were to have injections in his eyes, and one can only imagine the dreadfulness of that for my mother. He never walked, he never sat. He was like a baby and had to be carried everywhere.

My problems with my mother, I think, began from the moment I was born. On the one hand she would say how much she wanted me, on the other hand she would delight in telling me, and anyone who may be listening, how she cried when she first saw me after I was born, because I had red hair. That story haunted me from a very young age and I detested my hair, thought it was evil. After all it made my mother cry so I definitely had something wrong with me to do that. Our relationship wasn’t like those of my cousins with their mothers, or my girlfriends with their mothers. I longed to have that, but I never did. Sometimes during the years when my children were small, and later as well, I saw softness in her towards me, but not often. There was a barrier and I have no idea what it was. I became my father’s daughter and I was blessed to have such a wonderful father, so blessed. My birth came a year after my eldest brother passed away. I had another brother, older than me, who survived.

I thought about all these things, many of them I learned from my aunt. I started to see a reason perhaps for the way Mum was. She had a breakdown before my brother died and he was taken from her. How that must have devastated her. He died alone a day after my mother and father had visited him. I can understand why she was so protective and close to my brother who survived. She would have been terrified something might happen to him. Since my mother passed away I have spent many hours going through her photos and letters she kept, and the memories that I’ve found have touched me profoundly. I seem to have found my mother, but all too late.

Over the last two years before she died, when I visited Mum, I tried to summon up the courage to talk to her. It was too late; she didn’t comprehend much at all. Talk about Sydney and our life as a family drew a blank look. One day she became upset and I had to stop talking; perhaps that day she comprehended what I was saying. I would whisper to her that it was okay for her to go to Dad, that it was time they were together. I had heard that this often worked; not so with Mum. I had so much I wanted to say to her; that understanding had come finally and forgiveness as well. Each visit I resolved to say it all, each visit resulted in nothing being said and I kept it all inside me.

Three weeks before she died I sat by her bed and held her hand. Pressure from her hand reached mine and it was a wonderful feeling. Finally I felt that she knew whom I was and she touched me. It had been a long time coming. When she finally drew her last breath, I knew it had happened. I am sure that as her spirit departed that body she came to me and said goodbye. I was over 1,000 kilometres away and yet I knew she had died. Sure enough, about ¾ hour after I had a flash message, I received the news.

I spent time with Mum before the cremation and I spoke softly to her, saying some of what I had wanted to say to her for so long. It was too late for her, and yet it brought me some peace of mind. I wished however that while she was alive, and was without dementia, that we could have talked, and reconciled. I stoked her hair, it was so soft, and her face was like porcelain. The body in the coffin wasn’t much like my Mum; it was just what remained of her. I touched that face and kissed it several times and took a rose from the wreath on the coffin and laid it against her face. At that moment I truly loved my mother and told her so – too late. My hope is that she was around somewhere watching and now knows that I loved her, always had. I wasn’t able to show it because she didn’t seem to ever show it towards me, or hardly ever. I don’t remember hugs, just criticism it seemed of most of what I did or didn’t do. That’s all gone now and as I read the letters she treasured so much, I’m finding my Mum, warts and all.

The moral of this story? The title says it all – Say It Loud, Say It Clear – every day of your life to everyone you love. Tell them you love them always. It becomes a habit after you do it for a while, and if you forget to say it, you may even ring and say it once you realise it was forgotten because it will trouble you that you forgot something so important. Those words can mean so much and can make a huge difference to the emotional well being of all humans.

© vena mcgrath 2006

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