How my mother died

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Above: Mona Lyndersay in her Staff Association days. The militant diva paid a high price for her efforts supporting worker’s rights at T Geddes Grant in the 1980’s. Photographer unknown.

BitDepth#1048 for July 05, 2016

I’d been here before, looking at my mother on her bed, unable to move.

But this was different. There was a slackness to the left side of her face and she couldn’t support her body as she fought to sit up.

Her voice was slurred, but the words were definite and determined. She wanted to get up, to get out of bed, to get going.

It’s what she had done all her life and certainly all of my life, a never-ending resistance against inertia while railing against a casual acceptance of her lot in life.

We had been here before, three years before, but then she was paralyzed with serious illness – a respiratory infection.

This time I was witness to a battle, a fight to seize control of her body against a force so strong and invisible that all I could see were the outer tremors of it, the smallest indicators of her struggle in the sharp sudden spasms of her arms, the sudden twists of her hips as she tried repeatedly to sit up, to get moving.

I searched the web on my phone, called my doctor, spoke with the emergency dispatcher on 811 and my initial fear was confirmed with steady and unnerving assurance. 

This was a stroke in progress.

My mother’s last spoken sentence was a repetition of the nonsense tongue-twister that the ambulance dispatcher asked me to have her say.

She responded to the paramedics in short phrases and monosyllables. But after we lifted her off the bed and onto the little folding wheelchair to take her out of the house and onto the waiting stretcher, she stopped responding entirely.

There was still stoic hope then, but as the hours went by in the casualty ward and every face met mine with grim seriousness, I thought again about how my mother’s head had rolled off to one side as we rolled her to her front door in that awkward folding wheelchair. 

An unconscious head simply doesn’t drop like that, bereft of even reflexive muscle restraint and control. 

My mother died, according to the official hospital account, of a brainstem cardiovascular accident. I believe everything she was died right then, her brain mortally starved of blood-borne oxygen, as her body rolled through her antique wooden front door and white curtains whipped by the wind billowed around us. 

She never spoke or responded to stimulus again after leaving her bed at home. 

In Resus One, a high risk room where Casualty and Emergency Ward patients are closely monitored, I had access, but backed out of the creaking doors when I saw the vigorous huddles around the gurney.  After five hours, things became quiet and the check-ins by her medical team became more circumspect. 

Finally, the hospital’s Medical Registrar on duty was introduced to me with his associates. 

He was an impossibly handsome man, tall and slim, probably Muslim, with thick hair and beard. He asked me to sit.

His words came in waves.

“Brainstem stroke.”

“Quality of life.”

“Let her go.”

He was being unusually compassionate, even for a trained and experienced doctor and then he paused and asked, “Are you hearing me?”

I’d been following him, but I’d also been lost in the sudden, sharp realisation that all of our differences over the last five years would never be resolved and all the experiences I’d withheld in the face of that conflict would never be shared.

I knew we would end up here.

My schooling in being stubborn and opinionated came from a master, and when we were in conflict, it belonged on the boss level of a PlayStation battle.

As mother and dutiful son, we were unbeatable. As adults with independent lives, it was an OK Corral showdown.

I’d backed off five years ago, announcing a decision to return to the role she was more comfortable with. But it chafed and she knew it.

Her determined grip on the echoes of my first marriage while refusing to answer the doorbell of my second underpinned the last sixteen years of our lives, and as I responded to the now frowning doctor with a rasping “yes,” I felt the weight of how terribly sad and irreversible it all had been.

My last words to her were whispered thanks and a kiss on her still very warm cheek, her robust and muscular body still fighting, even as a killing blade of deoxygenation worked its way deeper into her amazing brain.

It was 7pm on June 23, six hours since I’d found her at home.

That night, I fell out of bed.

I never fall out of bed.

I can sleep on a plank, turn on it and not fall – even in a deep sleep.

For one moment, I was aware but not awake, feeling the surprising weightlessness of the fall and then I hit the floor with a fleshy slap.

Clawing back up to bed, muttering curses between gasps of surprised agony, I wondered if a spirit trying to rise and being pulled back to earth had tried to tell me something.

At midday on June 24, her body stopped its work and for the first time in a very long time, my mother was set free from her cares and worries, her concern and powerful, overriding sense of responsibility.

Eighty-two years after coming into the world kicking and screaming at Lopinot Road in Arouca, she left it gracefully, quickly and I hope, painlessly, the last synapses in her brain flickering out like guttering candles in a brisk and cleansing wind.