Holding on. It’s a natural instinct, what humans do best. It gives us comfort, continuity, and sometimes, you get to a point where you cannot imagine your life without a certain someone, or something. We are constantly craving more, striving for more, and yet we are not prepared to let go of the things we already have. We are definitely not equipped to lose everything.
To let go of the thing that matters most to you (whatever that may be) is pain beyond words. However, at one point or another in your life, this does happen. It doesn’t matter how good you’ve been or how hard you’ve tried, fate is cruel.
When John died, I didn’t believe it was real. I stayed up all night trying to convince myself that it wasn’t true. That he was going to appear by my side any second. That if I sat really still, and was really quiet, I could still hear his voice. It didn’t matter how many times we’d had the conversation, how many times he’d told me that I had to carry on and not miss him when he was gone, I still couldn’t accept it.
I thought I was prepared; it was inevitable that he was going to die, I mean cancer isn’t just a sickness that one gets over, especially at 87 years old. But I was never prepared for how much the world would change without him. How much I would change. But it still seems so surreal, that my husband of 60 years could be gone, wiped off the face of the planet. Sometimes it hits me that he really is, those are the worst times. But usually I just sit here in a state of disbelief, waiting for him to walk back in the front door.
What has surprised me most, though, is how everything seems to be moving along so normally without him. Cars still drive by our house, the gardener still comes every Thursday, and every time I look in the mirror, I still look exactly the same. It is surprising that, while my insides are forever changed, my outside remains the same. I still have breakfast lunch and dinner, I still go to bed every night, and I still get visits from my children. Trying to act somewhat normal in front of them uses all my energy. It takes all I have not to break down in front of them, especially Noah. Noah who looks exactly like his father. But I can’t. They have lost their father and are mourning as much as I am.
When the person that you love most dies, what happens afterwards? Is it possible to regain any sense of normality?
This is why Noah’s wedding was so important. It showed that, even in times like these, life could continue, that we could be happy again.
That was the first time I was happy after John’s passing.
Seeing Noah up on the altar looking so happy pulled me out of my world of self-pity and remorse and reminded me that things could go on. They certainly were for him. It also reminded me that I wasn’t going to live forever (a fact that shocked me when I was a little girl) and that I would most certainly be joining John soon. A bittersweet thought, but it was a fact of life.
Then there was the affair of writing my will. I had wanted to give everything to my children, the only things I would be leaving behind on this earth, but the matter was more complicated than that.
I like to think that I have three lovely children. But in reality, even though they’ve all moved out and are long gone, I still struggle with them.
There’s Celine, the eldest, who has just turned forty. The last time I spoke to her was at Noah and Penn’s wedding reception. That was when I found out that she had just been remarried for the fourth time, and this time I didn’t even receive an invitation! Celine’s a lovely, beautiful girl, but I stopped trying to communicate with her ages ago. She would never stop and listen when I said that these weddings were a bad idea, and in her opinion, if a person is not at least moderately wealthy, she is not to waste her time talking to them. That is rich coming from her, seeing as she has never earned a single penny in her life.
See, her husbands are all the same. They are all extremely wealthy, own holiday houses in exotic places like Bali, own large mansions in the middle of the ‘best neighbourhoods’ (whatever they may be, and move with the cliques and social groups that Celine deems ‘appropriate’. I can’t even remember the last time I saw her before the wedding and met Claude/Rick/Phil/whatever his name is. For the first week or two, I don’t even bother learning their names.
Then there’s Noah, the child that I, thankfully, do get along with. He’s 35 years old.
I was so proud the day he married Penn. She’s a lovely girl and they have two gorgeous children, Lachlan and Sophie. Noah lives just a couple of blocks away and visits with the kids at least once a week. He also calls every day to check that I’m okay because, at 83, I’m not as fit as I used to be. Saying that though, I’m probably one of the fittest around, for my age. I guess that’s why the kids haven’t shunted me off to a nursing home yet. The very thought of those things make me shudder. To me, a nursing home is the equivalent to a jail cell. I’d rather die here, in the comfort of my own home thank you very much.
And then there’s our youngest child (28 years) Hanna. I think I could deal with her being married one hundred times, if I didn’t have to deal with the truth. But the truth is, and I’m not going to sugar coat it, Hanna is a drug addict. And John and I never saw it coming. Sure, she was a moody teen, but we never ever in our wildest dreams imagined that at sixteen, she would pack up and leave without even saying goodbye. We only saw her once every couple of years.
John and I did debate getting the police involved, but by then we couldn’t ignore the fact that she was taking drugs. It was right in front of our faces. Especially when we cleaned out her bedroom. I would never risk our youngest daughter getting put in jail. How could I? If getting put in a nursing home was my worst fear, I could only imagine what jail would be like for Hanna.
By then, after one hundred attempts of trying to reason and plead with her, I knew that we had to let her go. As much as it pained me, however many nights of sleep I lost over it, we had to let her find her own way.
Which is why I didn’t believe my eyes when I saw one of her new ‘friends’ at Noahs wedding reception.
“What are you doing here? You certainly weren’t invited” I exclaimed.
“I found Hanna’s invitation lying around and I thought I’d check it out”, she said.
So Noah invited Hanna. Looking back on it now, I can’t imagine why I was so shocked.
“Well, you need to leave, right now”. I didn’t want anyone spoiling Noah’s special day.
“Actually, I came here about Hanna. I’m worried about her”.
“Aren’t we all”, I sighed.
“It’s not like that anymore Mrs Carter. She’s trying, she’s really trying to escape from the world that she’s been living in for so long. But the crowd that she’s with is dragging her down. I’ve seen this happen to so many people, I don’t want her to go the same way”.
That conversation with Ebony shook me to my very core. Hanna was trying. I could help her. How it pained me that I was confined to a hospital bed just days after the wedding, unable to do anything. And this is where I am now. At a crossroads.
Death is inevitable. Heart failure, my doctors tell me, is a very unpredictable thing, and it is unlikely to survive it twice.
But I accepted this a long time ago.
Just give me one day, I tell them, one day to see my children for the last time, and then let me go.
I look around the hospital room. It’s not so bad, really. Comfortable. Certainly not the terror I imagined it to be.
The first one to enter the room is Celine. She crosses the threshold at a brisk pace and kneels down by my side, tears streaming silently down her face. This is the first time in ages that I’ve seen her without Claude/Matthew/Thomas, completely by herself.
“Hey, now’s not the time to cry, we need to focus on matters at hand”, I say. If there’s anything I know about Celine, it’s that she inherited my extreme practicality.
It takes her a while, but realisation dawns on her face.
“Don’t give anything to Hanna”, she whispers, “she’ll take that money and shoot it down her veins”.
Anyone else would be astounded by her blunt insensitivity, but I can see the genuine concern she has for her sister on her face.
“I know” I say “But don’t give up on her yet”.
She nods, I know she’s just agreeing to try to soothe me, but it’s the best I can hope for.
A knock on the door. It’s Hanna.
“I love you Mama”, whispers Celine. She kisses my forehead and stalks out the door, not glancing once at Hanna, a strangled sob escaping her lips just before she’s out.
I turn to face my youngest daughter. She is clothed in rags and tatters, her hair looks like it hasn’t been washed in weeks, and still I feel my heart swell at the sight of her.
“You came”, I whisper.
She gets half way across the room before she breaks down. It’s all I can to keep from leaping out of my bed and rushing over to comfort her. She crosses the room and gives me a tight hug.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” she sobs, “I don’t even know how it happened. It was like a dream, a nightmare. But I’ve woken up now. God, I’m so sorry”.
“Shhh, shhh”, I whisper, tears streaming down my face, “I’m just glad you’re here”.
“I’m trying, I really am. I’m rooming with Ebony now, and we’re applying for university”, she says the word like she still can’t believe it.
“You’ll get in, I know you will”. This just brings on a fresh round of sobs.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been there, I’ll think about you, every day”.
Just then, Noah walks in, he gives Hanna a tight hug and whispers in her ear.
“Okay” she says, and walks out of the room without another word.
Then there’s just Me, Noah, and lots and lots of tears. We don’t need to say anything; we already know what’s going through each other’s minds.
“Say hi to dad for me”, he smiles.
“Noah, I need to tell you about my will”, I say.
Every child deserves to be given an equal chance in life. Every one of my children is beautiful and has many things to offer the world. No one deserves to be left behind. No one deserves to be given up on.
If you give up on your children, then you are not a true parent.
A true parent tells their child that they can be anything. A true parent wakes up in the middle of the night to hear every single detail of their child’s nightmare. A true parent sticks by their child through thin and thick. A true parent gives up everything for their child. You would think that sounds like the worst job in the world, but here’s a secret I’ve learnt along the way, it’s actually the best.
“Noah”, I whisper “give it all to Hanna. She deserves to have her dreams come true. And if that means giving her every single cent out of my bank account, then so be it”.
He nods as if he already knew what I would say.
“I’ll take care of her. I’ll be there for her. I promise”.
And as my heart races and skips towards its final beat, I remember John’s last words to me;
“I’ll see you soon”.