I curl into the middle of my bed wishing to be embraced by the mattress. But the void sinks all around me, beckoning. Every day it pulls at me, ready to absorb me. I’m tethered to a sinking anchor dragging me in. I tell myself just to breathe, breathe, breathe. In. Out. In. Out. My heart slows and my throat opens again. Just enough to survive.
Nothing prepares me for becoming an orphan. I think that having time, knowing Mum is dying, will lessen the dull weight that will inevitably blanket me. At times, I even feel brave tackling Mum’s impending death, maybe grown-up for the first time, armed with experience of losing Dad so quickly, and the depression that followed. For the first time I’m at the top of my own little family, and the thought both thrills and frightens me.
‘I’m dying,’ Mum declares with an impish grin. ‘Everyone can come to my place and celebrate.’ I smile, imitating her exuberant mood. The air thickens in the hospital room and I need to push a window open, or run downstairs to gasp in the air. My siblings’ laughter and jokes meld with Mum’s overwhelming optimism. They crowd around her as if she’s just had a baby. My jaw muscles ache and wear the pain.
Mum holds court in her blue swivel chair – swinging around to greet her next guest, while keeping an eye and an ear on the current one. The room fills with laughter, hot drinks and a constant stream of gourmet treats: pâté, brie and dark chocolate (‘Eat anything you want,’ the doctor declares. ‘Go do all the things you’ve wanted to.’). But when Mum’s back is turned, or as I walk guests out, the laughter dissipates. The corners of their eyes drop, rims redden as they open their mouths to say something and instead they give a quick squeeze of my hand, or an elongated hug.
My family and I escape to the beach house, the fresh sea breezes. And no matter how many windows I open to the cooling autumn, I can’t get enough air. The world is grey and resembles nothing of importance. The skies darken and garden is in disrepair. I wonder if I’m depressed when I can’t get out of bed.
Ribbons of memories flutter around me, twisting and catching each other, some flitter brightly in the breeze, others are dark and sink to the ground. There is so much that I still want to ask her, to tell her. I pick up the phone to leave her a message, but instead hear my brother’s voice, ‘Pattie Morgan has died. Do not leave a message. If you need to, please feel free to contact her children.’
But I have no answers.
We tiptoe through the eggshells and memories scattered throughout Mum’s house as we disassemble her life, and remind ourselves that our umbrella has gone.