Sunday, July 20, 2014

In the middle of the night

This morning I was folding the thick blanket I use at night when I skulk off to the spare room to escape my husband’s snoring, when he walked by.  
‘Your swaddling clothes?’ he joked, an awkward joke because my husband hates that he snores and keeps me awake. 

It troubles him but it seems he can do little about it. 

In the middle of the night, I’m fit to throttle him, but by morning I’m sanguine.  It’s okay I reckon.  I can handle it and at least I have another room to which I can escape. 

Before you go on about the things my husband should have checked out: sleep apnoea and the like; lying on his side and not his back; less red wine; I will tell you the point of my telling you this as it enters my mind. 

The point has to do with love and hate and how in the middle of the night when my deepest vulnerabilities are unleashed I can feel murderous towards he who stops me from rolling back into blissful sleep when in the morning and as the day progresses I feel no such rage at all. 

Similarly, when I visit my mother who is back in the Dandenong hospital, her second visit this year, this time with pancreatitis, I can overlook all the rage I have felt towards her over the years, especially when I see her shrunken form under a shroud like sheet and she smiles with pleasure to see me.  

She smiles in the same way for all of her visitors when we arrive but I reckon there is something in that smile that belongs especially to me, or should I say to all of us who once were her babies. 

Dandenong hospital is a huge block like structure that sits square on flat bare land not far from the intersection of a freeway and a highway on the edge of west Dandenong. 

The section in which they have put my mother is newly built but there’s an older part where she’s been in the past that’s less welcoming.  Not that hospitals are ever welcoming, at least not to me with their machines and sterilising hand soap dispensers on every corner. 

They remind you of the dangers that lurk in all the germs that could possibly exist in wait for us as frail human beings. 

Hospitals are unsafe places as far as germs are concerned but this time my mother is happy to be there.  Before she arrived she was in such pain and now at least they have overcome her initial distress and they have offered her a single room and so she can sleep and open her eyes to the mandatory visits from nurses and doctors for inspection and procedures, and otherwise she smiles at her visitors and then sleeps some more.

My own sleep was interrupted so many times last night that I do not feel well rested.  A crick in my hip after I experimented last night with sitting in one of our lounge chairs, side on, the way my daughter sometimes sits.  I’ve pulled a muscle and then a throbbing in my head in the middle of the night signalled for a few minutes the approach of a brain haemorrhage. 

In the middle of the night it gets hard to convince myself I am not dying.  I chide myself for such hypochondriacal delusions.  It is a feature of aging perhaps, but also a feature of personhood. 

I have held similar fears for as long as I can remember.  When I was as young as ten years of age I lay in my bed one night in wait for my older sister to come to bed and felt a strange twinge in my stomach such that by the time my sister arrived I had convinced myself I had stomach cancer. 

It was no small coincidence perhaps that my grandmother had died of stomach cancer a few years before and I had heard about cancer from the television, only the tell take signs, ‘a lump or thickening in the breast or elsewhere,’ the manly voice-over said as various bits of lumpy skin appeared on the screen and a woman clutched at her body in search of signs. 

And later as a twenty something year old, I left the university one day convinced that I was about to die of another form of cancer for the lump that appeared on the top of my foot near my big toe.  A ganglion, the doctor soon told me, one we leave alone or in the olden days cured by dropping a bible onto the lump. 

All these ailments that left me imagining my death would come soon.  

My mother’s death still waits for her but she does not want to die yet.  Not till she reaches one hundred.  

This is the third time we have had such a time as we imagined our mother was about to leave us only to watch her rally again.

A cat with nine lives I wrote in an email to my several sisters and brothers, the night when I thought her death might come soon, she had looked so ill that day. 

And every time my mother survives, despite my mixed feelings towards her I am relieved.  Not simply for her, but for me that I can put my own death on the back burner while I must still deal with hers. 

All of which is a nonsense.  Children predecease their parents, but not in my imagination, at least not for me.  My mother must go first. 

And then I read a comment from Karen who travels under the name ‘Anonymous’, a name I once assumed belonged to a famous poet because that fellow Anonymous had written so many poems in my anthology of poetry. 

Karen talks of sitting at her dying husband’s bedside and I’m struck by the thought it must be worse by far to lose your partner than your parent in adulthood, for all the mixed feelings in the middle of the night when he keeps you awake with his snoring. 

My heart goes out to Karen. 


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