I was sitting down to start writing a different version of this blog when I got the call from the nursing home.
Last Friday night we went out to Deans Diner. My mother died on Saturday morning. There is no connection between these facts other than that I had been to see Mum on Friday just before I went to the Diner. Strop had planned the outing with our nephew Keir and his girlfriend Zoe, for some teenager-paced burger action. When I got there I was a bit under the weather with a cold, and worried about Mum’s complete lack of interest in food, and in life more generally. CityRail hadn’t helped my mood either. Not that they were doing anything special – just being their usual selves. So clearly I wasn’t really in the mood for a night out, but I was willing to make an effort, suck it up for the greater good. Take one for the Quest.
Strop has been very keen on the idea of Deans Diner, talking it up at every opportunity despite the fact that it really did not fall within The Rules (because: no plates). She had heard Good Things about the burgers from her network of connected young groovers (otherwise known as Facebook). And I can see the appeal: retro/original milkbar vibe, overlaid with 1950s aesthetics, and rock’n’roll burger stylings. The burgers come in lots of variations, all with suitably daggy RnR names, plus they do fresh-fried fish and chips, and for drinks there are spiders in colour themed candy-striped containers. They even have a few Greek specials and baklava for dessert (though I think they pronounce it differently than they do at 3 Olives).
Having talked up the burger joint for about a month, Strop, no doubt wanting to preserve the currency of that well known old proverb, Perversity Thy Name is Strop, ordered moussaka instead of a burger. As punishment, the Burger Gods elected to give the tattooed and dreadlocked staff the impression that Strop must be a vegetarian – the only logical reason to avoid a burger after all. So they gave her vegetarian moussaka instead of meaty moussaka. Apparently it was awful – although we only have her word for that – no one else was stupid enough to give it a try, as we were all perfectly happy with our meaty burgers. There was The King (Keir), The Queen (Zoe) and The Jackson Five (me). Splendid burgers one and all. The chips were a bit pallid and stodgy, but the ginger beer spiders were excellent, as were the staff. Friendly (except for punishing Strop), even though they were working flat out on a very busy Friday night. Later Strop and I had a brief discussion, trying to work out if they were hippies with tatts, or hipsters with dreads – an important distinction in the tribal inner west. Afterwards, Keir and Zoe went off in search of exotic desserts, while Strop and I toddled home to bed.
On Saturday morning I watched Mum dying on the floor of her room, surrounded by blue clad paramedics. I stood outside in the corridor with my hands on my head, hoping that I had made the right decision, telling them not to resuscitate her again.
Let her go. It was over. She was over it.
I knew it was going to be serious when I arrived to find two ambulances occupying the driveway of the nursing home. When I walked into her room, the oldest ambo asked who I was, double-checked I was her son, talking directly to me. Serious voice. While the others kept working, cross-checking the drugs, deciding what to do next. They had a pulse going again, but she wasn’t breathing herself, being ventilated by one of the blue heroes. While I listened to the explanations of what had happened I thought, so this is how it ends, lying on floor with your nightie cut open, tubes taped into your face, and cords stuck to your chest. I was glad she had knickers on.
Now as we deal with the mundane aftermath of death, I wonder why I don’t feel anything much. I don’t know what her life or her death meant. Do our deaths mean anything? Does it matter how we die?
Everyone is very nice to you when you are bereaved, which is great, but it leaves you in a pretty weird zone. A kind of bereavement bubble.
Dad was sitting in the corner of Mum’s room – not his usual chair – everything had been pushed aside to clear a space on the floor for the ambos to do their resurrection work. He looked smaller and older than I have ever seen him.
Later, after the ambos had gone, we sat in the room with Mum, back in her bed but still tubed up, waiting for the cops to come. We’re still not sure exactly why they were called. The doctor came later. With exasperatingly long pauses and hand wringing, he seemed genuinely concerned, upset that he still didn’t know what exactly had been wrong in the weeks leading up to her death. When you’re 91 it doesn’t really matter. In between visitors, we sat and waited, saying the things we hoped were the right things to say.
We heard later that three other residents of the nursing home had died in the past two weeks. Flu season.