- "You'll cry where no one will see you." - My mother - bless her soul - had always been quite adept at making me feel guilty; even in my early childhood. The coded message in that sentence - first uttered when I was just a little lad - was that one day, when she will be dead and gone, I'd be sorry. After all, she was "The Only Mother" I had and I should feel deeply ashamed for displeasing her.
The same sentence was repeated every time I managed to upset her, almost right up to her dying days. It was engraved with subliminal psychological claw-marks on my heart and psyche.
Naturally, when she passed away at age ninety-four, after suffering with Alzheimer disease for the last eight years of her life, overcome by emotions of guilt and sorrow, I retreated to a quiet place where no one could see me and cried like a child. After all she was "The Only Mother" I had, I was her only child, and in spite of her many faults and her unquestionable talent for psychological blackmail, I loved her dearly. It was not just my duty to cry; the tears came from deep down…
Never in my wildest dream could I have thought that this prophetic sentence would have any further meaning past the grieving period after her death. I never heard that sentence uttered by anyone else, it was uniquely her way of making me feel guilty, it could not possibly apply to any other situation in my life, I thought.
I was wrong…
She passed away in the early hours of the 15th of August 2002. She was cremated in the morning of the 19th of August in Croydon Cemetery. In early July arrangements were made for a family holiday in the French Alps, starting on the 19th of August. When the arrangements were made, my mother was still in good physical health, no warning signs of any imminent problems indicating that the end was near. She was resident in a nursing home receiving good care. The end came suddenly, unexpectedly and swiftly, when she was admitted to hospital with an acute infection and high fever. She was gone within three days of admission.
At my insistence, after her funeral, the whole family went on the holiday as arranged, but without me. I needed to retreat on my own to fulfil her prophecy. How else could have I cried where no one would see me?
And how could have I guessed that a tragedy would soon to unfold?
The two weeks, whilst the family was away and I stayed at home on my own, gave me a chance to grieve in solitude and reflect on my mother's life. By the time the family returned I was at peace within myself and felt grateful for the opportunity of that solitude. Within two weeks of the family's return from holiday Erika - my wife - fell ill with an acute obstruction in the colon and landed in hospital with an emergency admission. Cancer was suspected and the diagnosis was proved correct after major surgery, when a large section of her colon was removed. I will not go into detail here about what followed, - it is too painful to describe - suffice to say she had two more major and two minor surgical interventions and two courses of chemotherapy within five years, following the initial surgery.
In true character she put up a brave and determined fight. After all this was the girl who in 1956, after the abortive Hungarian Uprising, went on the run with me, and - eight and a half months pregnant - travelled two days and two nights - one full night of it on foot - in appalling weather conditions and dodging Russian bullets - and all that without a murmur - to cross the border into Austria and to start a new life in forced emigration. She had been a determined, stubborn fighter all her life, so it came as no surprise that for five years she fought hard against the dreaded disease, keeping cheerful, active and optimistic, steadfastly refusing to talk about dying. Dying was simply not an option. Travelling became almost an obsession with her. We went on a month and a half long round the world trip, visiting Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and the West coast of the USA, had several shorter European trips and a three weeks long, hard and exhausting journey through many provinces and cities of China. All that between surgical interventions, courses of treatment and frequent check ups, scans and laboratory tests. She seemed inexhaustible. If treatment had to be put on hold, or tests had to be postponed in order that she could have her travelling completed, then so be it.
A bad fall, resulting in a broken arm on a trip to Budapest last year, could not dampen her zest for travel. She booked another trip to Budapest for May this year for both of us and in February went to visit a school friend in Germany, having declined another course of chemotherapy earlier.
But eventually time and her energy were beginning to ran out… On her return from Germany, we both succumbed to a heavy cold, accompanied by a bad chest infection. Now the proverbial writing on the wall became highly visible. The trip to Budapest had to be cancelled as she was beginning to lose her battle.
Still, she refused to give in… fighting against ever increasing severe pain and other manifestations of the disease, she kept on planning further travels and steadfastly refused chemotherapy.
By May, she was hardly able to walk. In July she was admitted - in quick successions - in seven different hospitals within Greater London. With the last three admissions, with severe jaundice, I began to realise that the end was getting near. After two surgical procedures to clear the obstruction in the bile duct, she was discharged and the jaundice gradually disappeared, reaffirming her never fading optimism. By now she was on regular high doses of morphine to control the pain, together with a large and almost daily changing selection of medication, to ease a variety of symptoms and to control side effects of some of the drugs.
Unable to walk unaided, she insisted on going out for a lunch to celebrate our fifty-second anniversary, in mid July, just one month before the end, and just three days before the end, again she insisted that I should take her to her favourite leisure centre for a swim. Swimming was her favourite pastime, her favourite way of exercising. Her birth-sign was Pisces; she was a strong swimmer. On this occasion she could hardly stand up in the water and had to pause after just a few strokes, yet she carried on for two full lengths with frequent stops and pauses.
-"I'm going to beat this, if it is the last thing I do. I am not ready to go yet." - she declared, out of breath, as she finally stopped, meaning that dying was still out of the question.
Stupidly, I believed her. With such determination, how could she not win? I wanted to believe her - against all odds - I did not want her to leave me. After 55 years of partnership, being together almost all the time during those years, and after all what we had been through together, she had no right to desert me now.
The end came swiftly, and almost unexpectedly. One minute she was swimming and fighting, the next she was fast fading and gone. There were no discussions, no goodbyes… no appeals against the inevitable… She was gone overnight… In the evening she was in the bed next to mine, relatively relaxed, by eight o'clock the following morning her bed was empty… and so is what is left of my life…
She passed away in the early hours of the 15th of August 2007, very notably on the fifth anniversary of my mother's death… almost to the hour…
Under the circumstances it was unavoidable that once again my mother's prophetic words came back to haunt me: - "You'll cry where no one will see you." - The prophecy was to be fulfilled for the second time… this time almost with a vengeance…
After three months of grieving the tears had stopped - officially at least. Now, if my face gets moist - other then from washing - my excuse is that I am voluntarily draining the cerebral fluid through my tear-ducts, in order to reduce the volume and the water pressure, where my rational brain ought to be. But, true to my mother's prophecy, I am only allowing that to happen where no one can see me…
© P. J. Oszmann (November 2007)
© Illustration created in Photoshop (November 2007)