We turned Mother in her bed, my brother and I, five or six times a day to relieve pressure on bedsores. Always a slim woman, she was now so slight I could lift her shoulders clear of the bedsheet with one hand. She would allow us to clean her soiling and perform her ablutions, even when a nurse was living in. This might wake her briefly enough for her to say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I am such a nuisance for you.’ So we would kiss her to sleep leaving our tears wet on her brow. She was dying of uterine cancer.
Once considered a South Seas beauty, wide eyes, falls of ebony hair, her eyelids a richer bronze than her cheeks, hibiscus in her hair, her eyes are now dulled, mouth tight in case of uttering a cry, hair drifting across her face like a shadow. She had passed her sixty-fifth birthday in this bed, she from the family Mahitena, whose womenfolk could typically hope to become centenarian.
We felt the loss of her already, were sorrowful for her pain and her crippledness, we willed her to be strengthened for a little longer by the energies of our devotion. She would never again draw out our consciousness into her own, as does a mother begin this practice with her warmth and rhythms so, when her infant has sight enough to focus on her gaze, her invitation is clear, ‘Come out and enter with me, and we shall be together.’
Does the sharing of conscious states begin so early? When I look into the eyes of a swaddled babe, and receive a smile in return, am I watching pleasure grow from a small amount of consciousness shared? Watching two toddling girls at play, their gazes meet, they smile, do they begin a small event of an interior meeting, an exchange? Of two models of consciousness, one sharing, one solitary, how will the competition between them play out? Which will naturally select towards abundance? Which will carry on humankind?
Came the summer Mother shivered whilst we wore little, her lucid moments were few, her usual condition was sleep and, when she was no longer able to clear her throat, her doctor said she could not last the night. Our house was from an earlier century, cavernous, so small sounds carried the wide corridors, and we chose a funereal quietude although, had she been able to choose, Mother would have preferred sounds of gaiety from those she had brought into the world, from her broken husband, her kindly friends, but this was not in us.
Closing on midnight, her breathing was strained and carried into recurring stanzas of rattling. We all left the room for the gardens so she could die in peace. Dying in peace meant dying alone, not a condition she would have allowed for any of us. I returned to her room, laid full length beside her and rolled her to me so her head rested on my breast. This, for a few minutes, quieted the rattles. Does she know we are together?
From the gardens come the sounds of conversation, of insects exploding in the lanterns, friends talk, some with her doctor, our father sobs into a trembling tumbler of whiskey, my brother hugs him, my brother not yet out of his teens has two years to live when, driven into a wildness by our father’s unyielding criticism of his girlfriends, will die in a racecar crash, but tonight he hugs him.
Mother’s rattles have placated a little, I am pressing her back with a circular stroke I have seen her use to comfort tearful babies among whom no doubt I was one, hoping she might be comforted by my warmth and rhythms in return, might sense my gratitude for her ability to tease out in me some capacity for understanding, to find empathy is an extension into some common consciousness, beginning when I first gazed into her eyes.