Conversations now include those phrases and euphemisms such as ‘palliative care’, ‘pain management’, and ‘keeping her comfortable’.
Clive spent the morning thinking about possible options and discussing them with me. With my full support, he decided he wanted to see his mother one more time alive, rather than at her funeral.
By way of background, his mother has been rapidly declining in recent years and for some time has not appeared to recognise Clive when we visit. However, we have felt, as many others do in similar situations, that something inside her did reflect a slight spark or awareness that it was her only son who sat beside her.
Previously, Clive had thought (and told his sister) that, when the time came, he would return to Australia for his mother’s funeral. Within a short time after receiving the morning phone call, he realised he would rather see his mother while she is still alive. As it happens, I did something similar with my father almost exactly three years ago, visiting him in the U.S. when he was dying but still able to recognise me. We said our goodbyes and, for a number of reasons, I did not return for his funeral and felt at peace with that decision.
Adding to the complexity of our current situation in the UK, only yesterday Clive’s father was discharged from hospital and is dealing with many difficult issues of his own. Clive’s parents divorced when he was very young, and although we are closer geographically to his father, his priority lies with his mother, who raised him.
So, once decided, we began the urgent processes of finding flights, communicating with Clive’s children in Australia, and letting family and friends here in the UK know of our change of plans.
We can’t help but feel the irony: in our annual Christmas letter, we talked about feeling the effects of long-haul travel, jet lag, and general travel fatigue as we circle the world seeing loved ones, and admitting we’re not quite as young as we used to be. We shared that we planned to do somewhat less travel in 2014, bringing our children to us for one visit. Now, before some friends have finished reading our letter, here we are, travelling again.
Life is nothing if not unpredictable, today’s families are dispersed geographically, and there is no timetable for illness and approaching the end of life.
As for me, on one hand, I relate deeply and totally to what Clive is feeling, as I felt exactly the same with my father’s situation. On the other hand, if I’m completely honest with myself, my first reaction after we received the early-morning call and Clive expressed his understandable desire to get to Australia ASAP to see his mother, was simply wanting to weep. We returned from Thanksgiving in the US with a huge sigh of relief, both of us weary from a year of rewarding but tiring family visits and thrilled to keep our feet on the ground for a month or two.
We’d made plans for a relatively quiet Christmas in England — a number of warmly-anticipated get-togethers with friends, our first New Year’s Eve fancy dress party with a pantomime theme (Clive was going as Jack with me as the Beanstalk), dinners for two, and cozy winter weeks by the sea in Felixstowe.
I was also going to review my photos from our 2013 travels, write a blog post or two about our times in Australia with Clive’s children and grandchildren and the visits to my mother and son in the US — all of which have been superseded by current events.
It feels churlish to say I wish we’d had more than three weeks at home before hauling ourselves to an airport again and turning all our Christmas plans upside-down. Then I remember: if it were my mother, I’d do exactly the same thing, and would be grateful for Clive’s support in this most painful of life tasks.
So we telephone and e-mail and pack and get our affairs in order and pray that we will arrive in time to say goodbye.