LIFE AFTER DEATH

2 Jul

LIFE AFTER DEATH

MY PARENTS CIRCA 1940 photo image0-8_zps1e50fdb7.jpg
There’s nothing more dreadful and heart-wrenching than when it crosses your mind that someone close to you is diminishing by the moment and becoming a shell of the person they once were – and you can tell, by the look in their eyes and the uncertainty in their voice that they’re not aware that anything at all might be wrong. Indeed, they actually think there’s something wrong with you. And, in return, you don’t know really, either.

I was a teenage lad when an assortment of pressures caused my only remaining parent, my mother, to start mentally shrinking. I’d not heard of Alzheimer’s back then, and the word dementia had no real meaning for me. But something was happening that I couldn’t understand and it worried me and my brother. But what could we do? I suppose if we’d looked into it we might have helped her more, but we didn’t, and I don’t blame us because we were still little more than kids.

Anyway the fading of a precious mind is not something you notice straight away because everyone forgets the odd thing, everyone searches for a word that is normally familiar to them, everyone is fragile. But eventually it crosses your mind that there might be something wrong, and by then I suppose it might already be too late. Or maybe any moment would have been too late, back in the 1960s.

But to this teenage boy the first suggestions of change, of diminution of capability and mental function, passed unnoticed. But only the first. The eventual realisation hit me soon enough.

At some time things became obvious even to simple little me. How old would I have been? Fifteen? Sixteen? Something like that, and suddenly the one I loved couldn’t do stuff. At first it was relatively simple things that she forgot to do. She’d always been careful about hygiene, both personal and of our home, and elements of that slipped away. I remember my brother and I trying to teach her how to wash the bathroom sink. It was grimy, I’m ashamed to say, but she didn’t get it even though we made a joke out of it.

By the time I was seventeen I had to fetch her widow’s pension from the post office for her. By the time I was seventeen I had to forge her signature on the pages of her pension book. There was no deceitful intent: I was still at school, in the sixth form, my younger brother was still at secondary school and we both needed to be fed. As did mum. And food costs money.

She was still capable of doing some things. Shopping, for instance – she still managed that – I think. You see, there are things that time wipes out, painful memories, life experience that you’d prefer not to have had, and I’ve forgotten a lot of the routine we had in those days, only that it was different from anyone else’s. But details, even broad outlines, have vanished and I’m damned glad they have! Life was getting to be dreadful and my mum was still only in her fifties by the time her mind was as good as empty.

Back then the family, the three of us, lived in a council house on a large estate that had been hurriedly built in the late 1940s in response to an acute housing shortage, and the upper floor was a steel construction that needed painting every few years. The estate was a bit like the famous Severn Bridge – no sooner had the painters finished at one end that they had to go back to the beginning and start again. And one of the jobs involved the painting of window sills.

That was how my mother died – opening the window for the council painter to gloss the window frame. And somehow she fell down the stairs.

The hospital staff suggested she might have suffered from a brain haemorrhage before she fell. Or it could have been after. Or maybe whilst. It was dreadful, but I believe she started opening a window and before she’d finished had forgotten she was standing at the top of the stairs. The rest can remain unsaid.

When this kind of thing colours your life when you are young (teens is young) it stays with you. Not the loss of a parent so much as the fear that whatever reduced her fire of intelligence until it was finally no more than a spark might visit you as you grow older. It’s not a fear that dominates, but its always there, at the back of the mind. What if it happens to you? To me?

She was at least a dozen years younger than I am now when she died, and I’m grateful that I’ve made it so long. Life is such a fragile thing and needs grasping, nurturing, loving, for as long as we can. For after life there’s only the long darkness that all of us dread.

I rather hope my mum retained her belief in the afterlife, of Heaven, of the nice things that might follow on after life. There would then have been a kind of justice in her death. After all, there was little justice in her life.

© Peter Rogerson 02.07.15

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6 Responses to “LIFE AFTER DEATH”

  1. Ain't No Shrinking Violet July 2, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

    A powerful story. I hope in the telling of it you are able to heal, even if only a little, from the trauma it must have been to lose her in such a way.

    • Peter Rogerson July 2, 2015 at 3:48 pm #

      It was all a long, long time ago, but we never forget our parents, do we?

  2. Barbara H. Horter July 2, 2015 at 3:42 pm #

    There seems no justice in the way your mom died, or even in the way her life was lived with such an affliction….but one thing sure is that somehow, through all that pain, you grew up and into a compassionate loving man (albeit an unbelieving one)

    Nobody has the right to question another’s beliefs and I am not here to do that…I would not seek to change in anyway, the manner in which you have lived your life, because from what I see (from benefit of the photos and love seen through your eyes of your family) you have given your all toward your marriage and your family

    …..I, however, as you say your mom did, have the belief of that final meeting again in Heaven….it is the difference found in Christianity….Christians are not perfect..and people who suffer just as much hurt in the loss of their loved ones…chastened by God in reaction to their sins…but hastened again by the glorious promise of Heaven’s gathering….it is that JOY which inspires us in the effort to share it….

    .You are an amazing writer and after reading this story it is not difficult to see why you are disheartened by any talk of faith…..but since you said your mom believed and you hope she retained that belief so that her death might have some justice…..my mother’s heart would tell you that if you knew of her belief…then it is something she did not lose and indeed her life had as reason, what she used it for….to somehow, even in her illness, convey to you and your bother,what you have conveyed through this story…what real love is…that is the miracle….I so enjoy your writing…it continues to be a regular read for me..

    • Peter Rogerson July 2, 2015 at 3:47 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Barbara. Belief or non-belief is very much a personal thing and everyone, whether they have a faith or not, is doing right according to their own world-view. No man or woman can tell you they know the absolute truth because, so far, it’s way beyond human knowledge.

  3. Barbara H. Horter July 3, 2015 at 2:36 pm #

    Absolutely Peter…..humans will continue to reach for that final truth and meanwhile it is interesting the share of ideas…thanks for all your excellent writing!

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