Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Bells blend......

There are no tasting toes to accompany this entry. This is not about the taste, it is about the experience. The experience in question was the evening of my mother’s death in October last year, and the dram that I shared with my Dad in the quiet bungalow he and my mum had shared for the last 15 years of her life. They had spent the first 45 years of their married lives in the house where I had been born, a small, semi-detached house - tiny kitchen (3m x 2m), front and back room, tiny bathroom, one double bedroom, one single bedroom and a box room masquerading as a third bedroom - home to six of us. At that time it represented a monumental step up in fortune and standard of living although I wasn't aware of that at the time. Both my parents were from poor, working class roots (houses with outside toilets, no heating or hot running water), and the move to the semi was a significant one on a number of levels. 

Having spent many happy years there, the decision to move was not one that was taken lightly. In many ways it was prompted by a perceived decline in the quality of the neighbourhood, and a recognition that, with "older" age approaching and my dad's knees not being what they were, a move could provide a more suitable environment in which to enjoy their twilight years. So it was with much enthusiasm (on my mother’s part), and a high level of anxiety and uncertainty (on my dad's part), that they moved to the bungalow where my Dad now lives.

Mum's death was fairly unexpected. The illness leading up to it and the associated complications that finally took her from us, lasted about 6 weeks in all. That period had involved a number of hospital admissions, time in a council assessment home, visits to the GP, and minor alterations to the bungalow to accommodate her failing health. The merciless thread woven into the experience was the pain that she was in, a pain that didn't respond to any treatment that was fired at it, a pain that wracked her body, contorted her movement, a pain so consuming that her vocabulary during that time consisted of wincing groans interspersed with increasingly fleeting moments of lucidity and connection with those around her.

The day and evening of her passing were relatively quiet save for the normal hospital hubbub. Mum's two remaining sisters and respective husbands spent some time with her, my two sisters, their husbands, the grandchildren and myself were there for most of the day. It was clear to us that mum was not long for this world but the dilemma arose as the evening wore on - should we stay, not knowing how long she would hang on for, or should we go home and get some sleep in order to gather strength for what could be another long day? On the doctors and nurses advice we took the latter choice on the proviso that, if there was a marked deterioration, we would be called back immediately. No more than 10 minutes after arriving home the phone rang and we rushed back to the hospital (a journey of no more than 15 minutes) only to find that mum had died. 

Extract from book. Her eyes surrendered two weeks before, finally, her pious body broke, and her spirit rose through ghosted sheets, through the wrought fabric of the flimsy hospital room, down corridors filled with  "worker bee" nurses, through the potent cocktail of anguish and hope, the banal tedium of bedpans and drugs, past x-rays and "why now's?", up through the not so fab, prefab shell and into.... air....deep, crisp, clean, late evening autumnal air.....Hello God, nice to meet you after all this time". 

That she died in the presence of strangers was not an issue. To all intents and purposes she had been oblivious to her surroundings for some time. Indeed, in some ways it would have been more distressing to hear her last stertorous breaths as she finally left this world. Tears were shed, goodbyes were uttered, and Dad spent some time alone with the woman who had been his “constant” for more than 60 years.

We returned home, my sisters, their families, my Dad and I, to the bungalow that was now home for one. We talked, we were silent, we smiled, we cried, we uttered the full complement of clich├ęs that are somehow married to discussions of loved ones recently divorced from this world, ("she was at peace in the end", "her suffering is over now", etc), we began to use the word "was" in relation to my mum. 

When a heavy silence descended on the house, after the rest of the family had left, my Dad poured two glasses of Bells Whisky. To his own glass he added copious amounts of lemonade (I remember cracking a slight smile), my own glass remained free of any contaminants. Now Bells blend is not one of my "go to" drams. Indeed, it is not a whisky that I have ever purchased. This isn't due to any inbuilt whisky snobbishness; it is simply that there are so many other drams that I prefer. This wasn't about the whisky itself, but it was about sharing a whisky with my dad at a moment that represented something greater than the sum of its parts; two men sharing a dram, a father and son trying to make some sense of a series of moments, scratching around and failing to discover, meaningful, insightful, things to say. It was as if simply hearing each other’s voices, filling the air with the noises of life, was enough to puncture holes in the powerful, pregnant silence. A couple of drams, a temporary softening of the acute sense of loss, a subtle shift into a contemplation of things beyond the immediate  - to memories of my mum as she was. Perhaps the seeds of coping were being sown at that very moment. 
Goodnight mum.....