My mother had her left breast removed when she was 63, around the time her back pain became unbearable. Later, she had bowel cancer, and though the tumour was removed she had complications later- “adhesions”, where scar tissue or the healing process creates a blockage in the bowel. Shortly after I moved to England, she developed liver cancer. She became addicted to the morphine, and for some reason her oncologist thought this needed reversed: he stopped her morphine, and she suffered from withdrawal. Then he found that while the chemotherapy was inhibiting growth of the tumour, it was not reducing its size, so she decided to stop chemotherapy.
I told my colleagues that she was dying using the peculiar jargon of our trade. “I have made an application for Attendance Allowance- under the Special Rules- for my mother.” When I said she had only days left, my boss surprised me by giving me as much time off as I needed. I returned home to find her in bed, a week before she died.
We wanted her to die at home. We had a friend from the church who is a nurse, and my sister is a nurse. My father and I were fit enough. After we made this decision I had a client suffering from back pain and depression after nursing his wife through terminal cancer, but we were sure enough we could cope. We had the aids we needed. First, Dad had had a stair lift installed so Mum could go up stairs; then a wheelchair, so she could go out. She was embarrassed by the wheelchair, initially, as she did not want to be seen in this weak state, but soon got to enjoy sunshine and different views, as she was wheeled around. And now, we had incontinence pads for her to lie on, and a commode beside the bed. I arrived a week before her death.
All of her was in pain, but she would rather get up to the commode. As would I, of course. Elaine understood the steps involved, to move her legs, then get her into a sitting position, then lift her up, then turn her to lower her onto the commode. As the expert, Elaine preferred to do this herself, and I did it only once. As I held my mother with her arms around my neck, before lowering her, I had a sense of Love, felt and communicated by both of us. But I did it only once.
I decided after she died that this moment of love communicated totally would be my most important memory of her.
I have a memory which shames me, which I have told no-one: sent to the town centre for a flannel for a bed-bath, I had a choice between one for an adult, undecorated, and one for a child, with Postman Pat on it, which was wonderfully soft, far softer than the other. I chose the adult one, for appearance’ sake, though she needed that softness. Perhaps she would have, too- appearance is important to us.
Then I sat, on her seventieth birthday, beside the bed, not touching her- reading, to pass the time.
Normally, I think of something to write about here, knock off about five hundred words, and post it a few days later. I might change the odd word, maybe even add a sentence, but it goes out more or less the same. Four Visits to my Mother’s Deathbed is a projected longer piece of writing, more complex than I usually attempt. I want to make more than one draft, and more than tinker with the layout. It is a big subject for me. I was present when my mother died of cancer in 1996. She had had breast cancer seven years before, then bowel cancer, and finally liver cancer did for her: when they found chemotherapy was inhibiting growth of the tumour but not reducing it, she stopped chemotherapy.
Twice since then in a therapeutic or personal growth setting I have been taken back there, and the experience was different. She stopped in 1996, her life was a whole, but I carried on changing and growing, as did my understanding of her and attitude to her.
I want to write of the experience as it was, who I was then, and how I saw her; then of going back, and why, how I had changed and how my perception had changed; and finally making a new visit, how that could be and what it could mean. Themes interlink, and change subtly. How can I avoid repeating myself? Should I write chronologically or start in some other way? Creating a draft is exploring what happened, and also exploring who I am: I may change while writing, and want to capture that. I have changed and I want to express that. Should I interweave my visits or deal with one at a time?
I have just written a sketch for a fourth visit- what might going back look like now? What might I want from it? What meaning might it have? After writing that, I realise that imagining it for that sketch is different from doing it.
My goal is a complex piece of writing about four times in my life and my relationship with my mother who lives on in my mind, still forming me. Even writing it may change me. It is in response to the writing 201 challenge.
I pick up your hand, and pay attention. I caress your finger tips. If you notice me, respond! You breathe lightly and quietly. I notice no response.
-Go back a day!
-No, this moment too is precious-
I would like you to know I am here. I would like you to know I love you. I would like you to know that I admire you, and care about you- everything to build you up, everything to make you happy. There is nothing to fear, now, what’s past is gone, but it too, now, may be beautiful for you. It was alright, really, even then, even when the rain lashed down and you gritted your teeth and put your head down and trudged on- though others saw the sunshine, and danced.
I would like- nothing. I would like this moment, now, while it is, while you breathe and I am here with you. Each human being is a beautiful thing. There is no ideal for skin, no perfection excluding others, for all is perfect: wrinkled dry skin is all it needs to be. We have managed you as you might like: we changed the pad under you, and the covers are neat, not too heavy, warm enough, the sheet ironed. I am glad your hand is above the covers. It is so beautiful, the bruises cannot disfigure it.
I would like it to respond. Some answering pressure. This has to be enough, but-
Go back a day. It is your birthday, and Dad has a dozen red roses in the vase on the windowsill. Go back a day, because I can, because this time is mine, in my control. I see you and not you. I can make of you anything I like, any response, and I can respond in the most perfect manner, for this is that time in bed when the perfect repartee comes too late- no, analysing the job interview with a view to answering better next time- or, healing the past, for though it is too late to heal your hurt it is not too late to heal my own. So as little fantasy as possible: you as real as I may imagine or remember you, though of course there are the bits I shy away from, perhaps without knowing it.
We are alone, for Dad has reasons to be elsewhere, and Elaine is with her children who are too young to be here much. It is just you and me. Now, several things happen, at once. I take your hand, and you give mine a light squeeze- we are both holding hands, both here, now. A tear escapes your eye. I kiss you. All is Love. Or there is an imperfection, something for me to regret or resent, for part of Everything is Perfect is the effort, the reconstruction, the acceptance, the seeing, and these are not easy or instantaneous. Or there is again no response- I think there was little response by then. I have all the time I need.
Picture by metmuseum.
We assess the evidence from a different philosophical basis, they say. We have a right to disagree. Perhaps. But they have no right to teach a wildly distorted view of the evidence, ignoring all the detail (which accumulates at an increasing rate) refuting them, considering only disputes and uncertainties. Possibly The Truth may be found; certainly it may be approximated; they run from it, and do all they can to obscure it.
Truth is my friend, and lies will destroy me. What matters most to me is the truth about myself, whether I am in any sense female, who I am, how I really respond when my responses are not suppressed. And why. So I blogged on homosexuality because of lies about human worth and human drives which forced round pegs into square holes, just as I had been forced. The basic lie is that (some or all) humans are dangerous and must be controlled.
I find truth in my religion, but my religion is practice, attitude, relationship, not belief. (Not even that one- sometimes it’s “way of being, not dogma”.) Understandings, moral or practical, are contingent and relative, for the moment, ready to be amended or dropped as necessary.
Truth is whatever I imagine it to be.
Equal marriage is won, in the UK and US. Equal marriage in church is coming. But a few sad obsessives still keep up the bad fight. Homosexuality is Evil, they cry, worse than murder and child abuse! The End of the World is coming!
Don’t look at Geoff Arseaile’s blog, it excites him too much. I found him posting on how homosexuality inevitably leads to incest and paedophilia, and when I commented he started fantasising about my genitals. So much for his pure Christian mind. He then posted on how our civilisation is failing, and our Christian culture is dead. This is the fault of those in the 60s who tried to modernise the church, he thinks. On the same blog his pal Chalcedon451 bemoans people saying homosexuality is natural- even in the Church!- and the ministry of women. It is unclear whether he thinks women’s ministry is an attack by Satan or not.
“Dr” Fred Pontius has not edited his about page, so I have no idea in what way he claims to be a “doctor”. He posts on how children should be given “gay conversion therapy” and the number of LGBT folk. If the proportion is 1.7% rather than 4.5%, what? Smaller minorities are easier to persecute? He has other concerns as well: when a scientist tried to prevent teaching of Creationism as “science”, Pontius accused him of an apparent crusade against Christians who simply disagree with him. Though he posts a huge amount, it appears I am his only commenter this month.
I don’t see the point in debating these people any more. I have said it all, why should I repeat myself? The argument is won, and that feels so real to me after attending that wedding. Similarly with creationists: I have gained some appreciation of the complexity and order of the geologic column, and made my point that what creationists say about the Bible is as ridiculous as what they say about geology; I have nothing more to say, and since they are highly unlikely to admit they are wrong there is little point in debating them, though I am grateful to commenters on Tim’s blog saying sensible things about geology, whom I have learned from. Perhaps I should find something else to blog about.
In my teens, I found my voice pitched in a particular way could elicit vibration in sympathy from the strings of my piano. This completely delighted me, no matter how often I did it. The object was more than an object. It had a personality, and I had a relationship with it. I would wrestle with it. Because the syncopation was so alien to the ways my hands had gone together before, I spent a week on the first four bars of the Maple Leaf Rag, but learned Joplin more quickly afterwards. Then I learned the Pathétique sonata, and thundered away, and though the tremolo often made my left wrist ache I kept it up until the muscles developed. I have played it to Mark Owen on his piano, and (yes I know a name-dropping story is less good if you have to explain who the person is) he is a member of Take That.
The end of the recapitulation is a moment of sublime darkness and catharsis.
My love of this is one of my greatest gifts from my father. As a toddler I listened to Jon Pertwee singing My Grandfather”s Clock and there was an old lady who swallowed a fly, and to the Emperor Concerto. I drove my mother mad with Couperin harpsichord music. I have just been listening to Beethoven’s piano concerto no. 4 in G major, and it has such full-hearted joy. I wept with it.
Playing became too much like hard work. Errors creep in, and I was disheartened from slowing down and picking a bar apart, when I had done so, so many times before. Now, it seems harder to learn a piece than in my teens. I have tried with a few, and given up.
This is such a wonderful, exalting experience. Why do I do it so little? I lose concentration and start ruminating, or I get upset, or I get a little bored, or there is a wonderful moment when the music speaks directly to me. Sometimes I follow the drama of it. There are familiar moments where I am with it completely. My sulking gets in the way. Perhaps it might motivate me out of my sulk.
Now, I shall listen to not Mahler or Shostakovich, but the Pastoral symphony. Self-improvement is all very well.
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Desiccated propaganda! Who’d have thought it? Rather than seeking to inflame the blood with lies, this government article on the Infrastructure Bill seeks to conceal, for no-one reading can be pleased with this, apart from the profiteers.
What will the Bill do? It will turn the Highways Agency into a government owned company, owning our motorways and major roads. This will be privatised. No, they don’t say that now, but who could doubt it? It will be privatised, at a grotesque discount, for the benefit of Conservative Party major donors. Remember that the Post Office shares closed 38% up on their first day of trading, and are now 5% higher than that close, with the lowest price over the months since just 1% lower than that first day close. Is it incompetence, or deliberate theft?
The government intends not only to privatise our roads, but all publicly owned land, currently owned by local councils and public bodies, except for the Crown estates. The Queen will be OK. It will cancel easements over that land, such as public rights of way. It will then sell the land off piecemeal. Getting more homes built is a worthy aim, but not on parks or burial grounds.
Here is where I have to start digging deeper. I read that house building will be encouraged on brownfield sites- sounds good, brownfield means land used and discarded, such as a derelict factory; the Millennium Dome was built on reclaimed land. Brownfield sites are not defined in the Bill. The Homes and Communities Agency was set up in 2008. It defines brownfield land as land that has been previously developed, and estimates that 28,500 hectares of such land is currently in use. That is how we find that parks, gardens and playing fields are included. Practically, builders will prefer to use those, rather than derelict factories on contaminated land.
The HCA state that it will sell land off as quickly as possible, for development.
The Bill will also make it more difficult for planning authorities to enforce planning conditions. “If you are draining the swamp, you do not consult the frogs”, but here law to protect the public will cease to be enforcible.
There is the usual power to make regulations: The Secretary of State is empowered to make regulations to achieve whatever he bloody well likes.
The Bill will also provide power to control invasive, non-native species which pose serious threats to biodiversity, the water environment and infrastructure. No, actually, only legal powers, not effective power. That requires public funding.
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