This Writer: The Unsuspected Truth

My mind sometimes rides on an endless roller coaster trying to sort out unsortable things.

Truth is one of those – the truth we think we see and the truth as perceived by another.

I had an old friend long ago.  She was old in tenure and age with friends of all ages.  As a matter of fact I and many others called her ‘Mum‘.  She was born sometime around 1916 and lived in a large stately home her father had built in the town of Preston.  She and her sister grew up learning good housekeeping from a very young age and when their school day ended they dusted both banisters of the front and back staircases.

She grew up well mannered, polite and demure as was expected of all ‘ladies’.  She was always a lady.

We became friends in 1967 when I was a nursing student and she a patient. A couple of years later I went to live with ‘Mum’ and ‘Pop’.

She died in 2002 after a few years as a widow.  She always kept her emotions in check as a lady should, through the death of her daughter and the difficulties with her son.  She never spoke out of line.  Never uttered a word of despaiir or anger.  Her daily life, for her whole life was centered in the kitchen, preparing food, planning, cleaning… After dinner ‘Pop’ retired to the living room  to watch TV as we cleaned up.

When her daily chores were done (about 8pm) she would go up the back stairs to the small room where she kept her craft supplies.  There she remained until time for bed.  She said it was truly the only time in a day that was hers.

Once Pop passed away she continued living there, taking care of the house and grounds.  One of the things I talked about at her funeral was that she appeared to have no problems.  She seemed to view them as challenges to be solved quietly.  When she could no longer kneel to garden she she would sit on a plastic garbage bag and slide along the ground.  When she could no longer carry things upstairs she filled a basket attached to a rope on the top railing and pull it up once she got to the top floor.

We spent many many evenings after a meal playing cards and talking.  The only time she ever used an unladylike word was during cards when just before she threw down a winning hand she would say, “I’ll show you where the bear sh*t in the buckwheat.” They were spirited games filled with moans groans and laughter.

As her time here on this earth became shorter she started to get her house in order. Literally. Wanted to make it easier for her son, her only living child.  She also started writing down the family history and told me tales of yore.

One Wednesday I suddenly felt an  urgent  need to see her so I stopped in on my way home from work.  She was pretty quiet during the meal and later during cards.  Quite suddenly, out of the blue, she said she was going to have a stroke and would be found on the kitchen floor.  She said it factual like not expressing emotion.  Just real quiet.  I opened my mouth to say I would stay the night in my old room but a message as clear as a bell came to me.  “You cannot stay.  Death is in this house. You cannot stay.”  I tried to get my mind around the thought and again the words were clear.

She held me for a long time that night as we hugged on the front porch and the next day I got a call from her Grandson who spontaneously decided to stop in to visit.  He looked through the kitchen window to find her lying on the floor.

But that’s not what I started to tell you –  as ‘truth’ and what we perceive are so often different things.  I asked ‘Mum’ after she had been widowed for awhile if she would ever marry again.  To me she had always seemed a woman happy in her role in life.  The crisp anger in her voice startled me,

“I would never marry again.  I spent my life looking after my family and my husband.  I was a good wife and mother and did a good job.  Now I get to look after me.”. And then we got up and went to the living room where she sat in ‘Pop’s’ easy chair and watched television.

She also told me that she followed the rules she was raised by.  “Never say anything in complaint and you can never get in trouble.  If I had it to do over I would talk up.”

So the truth I believed about an admirable always politically correct woman was not the truth of how she felt.  Marguerite was an amazing strong incredible woman and all who knew her were blessed.

It’s a Funny Thing about Perception..

One of those nights….One of those memories..

It’s a funny thing about perception….

I’m having one of those nights where the thoughts about a couple of worries ..that were not worries when I first tucked myself in….keep winding in, out and around my mind, picking up speed until it feels like a whole washer full of clothes agitating and knocking against the  delicate balance of my grey matter.

You probably know what I mean – you settle down all snugly looking forward to a well earned rest, and then from some very small dark mystic corner of your mind creeps one tiny inconsequential thought.  One of those..in the morning I must remember to … Well before you know it there is a whole chorus of..I must, I should.. I wish, I…I…I 

Then in the midst comes something unrelated; something unforgettable that somehow you had forgotten about.  Until now.

It has to do with how we impact other people.  The impressions we leave.  The impressions we can never change no matter how much we wish we could.

My folks died many years ago.  In the early nineteen eighties.  They worked hard every day of their lives.  They had both been in the second world war.  As a matter of fact that is how they met.  They married, raised five children and about the time they should have been looking at retirement in the next half decade, they both came down with cancer.  Not at the same time but within two years of each other.  But that is not what this story is about really.

I was..well still am a registered nurse…and at that time I lived in Brantford Ontario about an hour away from my family.  Dad had passed away two years previously when we received news that Mom had to have surgery.  It was the early summer of nineteen eighty-three.  The surgeon told us post-op that she had six weeks to live.

I decided to spend my time off at the hospital at night looking after my Mom.  When I got to the hospital I told the nurses on the unit that I would do her care; turning her, bathing her so they did not have to include her in their rounds.

I tried.  It was heart breaking and I realized I could not treat her like one of my patients.  So I went to the desk and asked them to do her intimate care.

I left her room to stretch my legs and search out a coffee machine.  When I returned Mom was freshly washed and turned.  I was startled to see she was completely awake and alert.  The morphine she was receiving in her intravenous had kept her pretty dozy.  But she was more than alert. She was terrified.  Her eyes were huge and her skin had the pasty pallor that only terror can impart.  

I started to walk towards her to find out what was wrong when she commanded me to stay away and not come any closer.  She said she had to see my brother right away.  By this time it was almost two in the morning and my brother was working the night shift.  I did call him and as soon as he arrived she told him to make me leave which I did.

After about ten days my Mom insisted on going home.  We set up home care and each of us took turns staying at the house with her.  She was still getting ever increasing doses of morphine and seemed in a haze most of the time.  When it was my turn to be there one day, she asked me to help her sit up on the side of the bed which I did, delicately balancing her in an upright position.

Suddenly this tiny fragile jaundiced lady looked at me and the confusion left.  With clear eyes and even clearer steady voice she said, “Chris, what was that course you took at work a few weeks ago?”

Wow, I was not aware Mom even knew I had been away for a course.  So I told her that it was one of my management courses with the Ministry of Health to help me be a better boss.  She looked at the floor for a moment before she gazed directly into my eyes.

“I thought,” she said so softly, “that it was a course on how to kill someone, and that night in the hospital I thought you had come to kill me so I would not suffer.” 

It felt like it was long time until I spoke or even breathed, and I can tell you I was afraid to speak, but I had to know why she would ever have thought such a thing.

She was able to relate very clearly about that night in the hospital when the two nurses came in to wash her and change her position.  She told me that as they turned her one nurse asked the other, “Why can’t she do it?” And the other nurse replied, “Because it is her mother.” And my mom, through her drug induced perception thought they were asking why I could not kill her.

It’s a funny thing about perception.  

I am just glad that when she died a few days later she did so knowing the truth.

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