It’s been six months since my mother died and I’ve rather put my grief away in a box, occasionally lifting the lid to peep in at the big black nothingness there, only to shove it back on again.
Part of it is to do with the last week of her life, completely incapacitated by a stroke so massive that it was incredible it didn’t kill her elderly, infirm, frail little frame outright. She clung on to life somehow even if she couldn’t move, eat, speak, or even open her eyes. Effectively, she was ‘locked in’. The staff told me she could still hear, and encouraged us to chatter away to her about anything, everything, and nothing, so long as she could hear us. I cuddled her many, many times, using the same little song she’d used with me as a small child – a-cuddly-uddly-uddly-udd, a-cuddly-uddly-uddly-oo, a-cuddly-uddly-uddly-uddly-udd, a-cuddly-uddly-oo BOM BOM. I thought, well, she’s going to recognise this, if nothing else.
All the time I was sitting there, I kept wondering if there was anything she wanted to say and how I could interpret it if she did. Short of telepathy or Mr Spock’s mind-meld, there wasn’t, however, any way I could reach into her mind and help her communicate anything she wanted to convey. I wasn’t searching for a response, so much as wishing I could help her somehow, wondering if she felt desperate at not being able to respond: but she was already drifting, drifting away, each lap of the tide taking her further and further out to sea, away from us, not drowning, but on her travels to somewhere new.
Imagining myself in her position, I realised that with my eyes shut, and without my CI, I wouldn’t even be able to passively receive any sound or know others were attempting to get through somehow. It would depend on if anyone even knew how to communicate in tactile sign language.
My deafness has meant sound being locked out – not locking me out of the world, but making it harder sometimes to break the door down. The best way of describing it is the way I used to think about it: as if my ears had been stuffed with cotton wool that would keep the sound out for life. Of course, now I can take the cotton wool out whenever I want. Seeing my mother locked in showed me the other side of the communication divide, and that’s why I took it so much to heart.
The Bear gave my father some advice. “Give her permission to go. She’s not going to go until she has your permission. It’s not her daughter’s permission she wants, it’s yours.” Amazingly, astonishingly, my father, man of few words, racked in his own agony of misery, spoke to her: “Give up now,” he said. “Don’t fight any more, give up now,” as he stroked her head.
She heard and understood. That evening she made two huge efforts of will and produced two little sets of pursed lips with a determined set to her jaw, one for each of us. Two tiny little puckers of kisses for Dad and for me. Brave to the last, so weak, so shrunken, she was going to communicate in the only way she could before it was too late. She died five minutes later.
It was heartbreaking, but somehow, she made it, she did it, she bridged that gap, all by her little self.