“Is there anything you can’t take?” a nurse reportedly said to the American jazz drummer Buddy Rich as he was being prepped for a surgery that he ultimately would not survive. “Yeah, country music,” he said.
So, maybe somewhere deep inside, I didn’t expect my mother would deliver, as her last words, a verbal machine-gunning that would make a bikie blush. Let me be clear. This isn’t because our relationship usually sailed along calm, clear waters. As much as we loved each other, we reliably repelled each other, too. We had spent a lifetime often failing to give each other the emotional support we craved.
I remember one trip she made to Sydney. While walking to a waterfall in the Blue Mountains, we communicated our mutual disappointment by each, in turn, showering warmth on perfect strangers we happened to meet. Facing each other, we were stony faced. To strangers, we lit up. We were like those mini-ballerinas in a child’s jewellery box that twirl when the lid is lifted. Except we only twirled for strangers, rather than for each other. See? We seemed to be saying, telepathically. See how worthy of love I really am?
I am lucky, though. In the days and weeks before the screaming started, my mother and I shared some of the most raw and loving moments of our lives together. She was unspeakably kind, and vulnerable in her love for me. We forgave each other for wounds we had inflicted, that I never thought we would.
So now, after hearing Belzer’s words, I think my mother’s last words were admirable. They strike me as the sanest thing a person could say at the end. My mother was in unimaginable agony. She had advanced bowel cancer that had spread to her gallbladder, liver and kidney. In her last days, she frequently winced while plucking at her pale blue gown covering her abdomen with her fingertips, like an aristocratic Englishwoman daintily lifting a handkerchief. It appeared that she was trying to pluck away stabs of pain.
“You try like mad to shut it out somehow, and sometimes a swear word is a reasonable thing to do,” says a doctor friend of mine who has worked in palliative care, about the patients to whom he’s tended. . “I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say wise, Yoda words.”
One friend recalls his father combining swearing with wisdom in his last days. “I asked my father if there was anything he wanted to impart, and he says, ‘If you don’t f—ing know by now, you never will’,” says my friend of his last conversation with his father, before he died at 73. “Not in a mean way. Almost like, ‘Don’t expect any last piece of advice. I’ve been giving you advice all my life’.”
And this is how I think of my mother’s words. After all, my brother and I were arseholes sometimes. I probably needed this reminder. It will – and should – inform how I behave with everyone in my life, forever after.
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