Tuesday two weeks ago I was enjoying glorious spring skiing in fabulous Park City and Deer Valley, Utah. I was feeling fit, strong, happy and well. Life and my health were back to normal. Things couldn’t have been better.
Then I received an email from my sister in Australia saying my mother, who had a terminal lung condition (Chronic Obstructive Airway Disease) had contracted a chest infection. She’d been put on antibiotics and they were waiting to see how she would respond. Judging by how previous episodes of this nature had gone and her enormous resilience, my husband and I thought there was no need to take any urgent action. It was a wait and see situation.
Two days later another email arrived, the infection had become pneumonia and Mum was expected to live another week. The big question was, ‘did we need to rush home or would she live the full week predicted?’ I had to choose between going home immediately and staying an extra couple of days. It was a difficult decision because we’d had calls of this nature previously and Mum had pulled through.
I changed our return travel to arrive back in Australia well within the time frame suggested by the doctor. Whilst doctors can speak to us from the perspective of statistics, they cannot speak for us as individuals, as we see time and again. Someone is told “You have six weeks to live” and he lives 12 months. “You have 3-6 months to live” and she lives 18 months. The moment of death is the choice of the individual.
It was my mother’s 81st birthday on March 14. I’d sent her a birthday card before I left and was planning to buy her that black cardigan she wanted when I was in Park City. The realisation that I wouldn’t be getting it for her saddened me greatly.
My family organised a champagne lunch for her birthday and I arranged to call in for the party. Thank goodness for mobile phones. My husband, who is a prankster with heart, came up with the idea of doing a little performance for her, over the phone. Given the time difference, we were standing on a street corner in Park City with cold hands juggling the phone and my husband started. “Hellooo… Dorothy or can I call you Dottie (her least favourite name)? Dottie this is Pastor Ray from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Park City Utah. We’ve heard it’s your birthday and I’ve gathered together a small group of choristers to sing you happy birthday!” We then chorused happy birthday to her. She loved every minute of it and announced he was her ex-son-in-law. She laughed. We laughed. It was the best birthday present we could have given an ‘old performer’ who was holding court with her family.
Thirty-six hours later, on the day of our departure, I got a text to say the end was nigh. I wanted to be free with the choice I’d made not to leave earlier and to give my mother the farewell I would’ve given her had I been there. I called the hospital. They took the phone to her and I told her I was well and in the best shape I’d been in for many years. The skiing holiday had done wonders for me. I also told her I would follow her legacy and be with my husband to the end. Two things that were important to her. Finally, I said, “if you need to go before I get home, you are free to go.” I was at peace with our relationship. I had said everything I’d wished and needed to say. The nurse said she smiled and shed a tear.
I am clear I was with her in spirit for the duration of our holiday and to the end.
When we were in transit at LA airport, I thought, “I have to contact my family, NOW.” I called my brother. He said, “the end is near.” I asked him to hold my mother’s hand for me. He did and told her he was holding it for me. Then I said, “Mum I acknowledge you for your courage, love and commitment. You will always be in my heart.” As my husband spoke to her and my family laughed, she passed away.
She had survived breast cancer with great courage and determination 35 years earlier. She was an outstanding role model and inspiration for me and many other women whose path she crossed.
I am grateful for my life, the loving family into which I was born and for my extraordinary mother.