Melanie, a further education teacher crossed the road, from the college bracing herself against the rain and wind. She needed to return her sister's call in privacy. Shivering, she stepped into the phone box and dialled her Teresa's number.
“You’d better go down to the hospital soon, they said mummy has only got a couple of days to live now!” Teresa told her.
“I’ll go to the hospital tomorrow. I’ve got a class this afternoon and there’s no one to stand in for me," she answered with a sinking feeling in her stomach.
Teresa replied with an aggressive edge to her voice. “You haven’t got the time, she might be dead by tonight!”
Melanie knew instinctively that there was time and her mother would still be alive when she visited her the next day.
“I will go tomorrow,” she said firmly.
She crossed the road, back to teach the second half of the lesson, her feelings in turmoil.
The next day, as she sat on the train travelling to the hospital, she prepared herself spiritually and emotionally for this rite of passage, to make sure she could be gentle with her mother who had throughout Melanie's life shown a lack of understanding and concern for her well being. Melanie had written in her diary a month before:
"talking to mummy is to be pulled into the constant shifting sands of anxiety, aggravation, self pity and self pain, confusion-nothing tangible nothing solid, no real mother, therefore, no real daughter.”
Leaning her head against the train window Melanie recalled reading Aldous Huxley’s description of families in his book ‘Island’ who prepare a loved one gently and beautifully for death with music, a loving ambience and celebration, rather than fear and sorrow.
Arriving at the hospital she went to the cloakroom to comb her hair and compose herself. She looked long into the mirror taking deep breaths to slow her rapid heart beat and asked for strength to get her through this experience.
“You can be calm and gentle,“ she told her reflection. “I will show love and tenderness on my face.”
Feeling prepared she walked into the ward and saw her mother looking very frail and thin asleep in bed. “Has Mrs. Pringle been given a sedative?” Melanie asked the nurse sitting at a desk nearby.
“No, just sleeping naturally,” the nurse said in a chirpy manner, “she hasn’t got long you know!”
Melanie, irritated and hoping her mother had not heard the tactless remark, nodded showing that she understood.
What could she hope for her mother to feel? She had not been seeking enlightenment to be one with the universe. She had only been bitter, self-centred and aggrieved.
As she stood by her mother’s bed Melanie was overcome with a sense other worldliness. Feeling a strong connection with all the daughters who had kissed their dying mothers in her family back through time. She gazed over her shoulder and like a vision, saw the continuance of daughter leaning over mother
and, in succession, followed by the next and then the next until it came to Melanie’s turn.
She leaned over her mother and, with a feeling of power and connectiveness, kissed her mother becoming part of an unending perpetual experience.
Melanie kissed her mother's cheek . Yvonne, opened her watery pale blue eyes and looked up into her daughter’s smiling and loving face and sighed, saying, “That was a wonderful sleep. If that is like dying I am ready to die.”
Yvonne tried weakly to pull herself up to a sitting position, grasping onto the metal bedstead making a great effort, with no effect, reaching awkwardly for her brush to tidy her hair and for her hearing aid, hindered by the tubes connected to her fragile arm.
Melanie tenderly put the hearing aid in her mother’s ear, stroked her mother’s arms and hands, reached for the brush and tidied her mother’s fine white hair round her gaunt face. She wanted to scream out " I could have always been this loving to you if you hadn’t pushed me away!"
She whispered, “What a lovely mummy”.
Her mother hesitated, “Was I...am I? ” she said uncertainly, then looking Melanie straight in the eyes she said unwaveringly, “I haven’t been a very lovely mummy to you, have I?”
Melanie, shocked at this uncharacteristic, intimate confession, kept her face calm, but her thoughts were racing through all the possible answers she could give her and wondering why had she said this so late in her lifetime. Too, too late for long reconciliations.
Melanie smiled down at her mother and said softly, “Let's remember happy times. As I came down on the train I passed by Mudeford, where you and Daddy took me during school holidays. Remember how I dug holes with Teresa in front of the beach hut?”
Yvonne’s face changed from bewildered sadness to a relaxed happy smile, her eyes sparkling she recalled the holidays they had on the south coast, in Stington, and how she had advised the resort manager that he should improve activities for the holidaying families.
In her last lucid moments she was still describing happy romantic memories of her holidays with her husband, Trevor, when they were young and carefree as she fell asleep again. She did not fully wake up again. Melanie left her mother’s bedside after reading a prayer the minister had left on the bedside table and returned in a daze to her home and her husband, Jacob.
Jacob leaned anxiously towards her as she sat down on the couch next to him. “How did it go?” he asked.
“She said I wasn’t a lovely mummy, was I?” Melanie sobbed. Jacob reached out and held her in his arms.
The next day Teresa, phoned her whilst she sat with her mother describing the signs of gradual death.
Then as Melanie sat meditating sending out supportive feelings to her sister, Teresa said quietly, “She has died, the nurse is recording it now.”
Melanie shivered weakly as the stark fatal reality of death clutched at her heart.
Then with a ghoulish sense of humour Teresa said, “Well she’s finally done something right. She’s died just in time for me to get a lift home with Robert. He’s just arrived.”
“Take care,” Melanie told her putting the phone down.
Melanie wrote in her diary the next day. I love my mother. Because I love my mother I also feared her. I feared her because I loved her so much her words hurt me more.