(de­voted)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Joseph Ting Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

I re­mem­ber our mother as be­ing the liv­ing em­bod­i­ment of civic and moral virtues.

Wast­ing food was dis­taste­ful to her. Each bit of rice had to be eaten, she said, oth­er­wise you would end up mar­ry­ing some­one with a grainy com­plex­ion.

My mother al­ways saved us the best bits of the duck or chicken (the drum­sticks) and suc­cess­fully pleaded on our be­half when Dad wanted to dis­ci­pline us strongly.

The bed had been rat­tling all night with the ef­fort of my mother’s laboured breath­ing. Her long pauses al­ter­nated with deep gal­lop­ing sighs.

It had been a sober­ing 10 years since my healthy mother suf­fered a mas­sive stroke.

The bolt out of the blue cast her bed­bound into a nurs­ing home. Robbed of vi­tal en­ergy, her face was rapidly stripped of emo­tion and ex­pres­sion.

Her eyes stare un­tir­ingly but blindly ahead and, af­ter she lost the will to eat, nutri­tion had to be de­liv­ered through a tube in­serted into her stom­ach.

Through

the

years we

got

used

to

the warmth of hands and her chest ris­ing and fall­ing — there re­ally wasn’t much else. As death’s grip wound tight, I smiled through teary eyes as my mother stirred as we sung Psalm 23, her eyes blink­ing with brief recog­ni­tion of loved ones gath­ered around.

In her long in­ca­pac­ity, Mum was lov­ingly at­tended to by Dad. My sis­ters cared for her deeply with metic­u­lous acts of daily kind­ness to her spirit, her hair, skin and teeth. It is the ul­ti­mate tes­ta­ment of love in ac­tion, the in­nu­mer­able small deeds of care nec­es­sary to keep my mother in great phys­i­cal shape for so long.

My father vis­ited her daily over a decade. I won­der what she would have thought of the same small pond and gar­den that she was wheeled around maybe 3500 times, had she been able to see it.

What of my sis­ters’ tend­ing to her daily care three times a week over a decade? No fam­ily could have been more de­voted.

My father and sis­ters were there at the end as her laboured breath­ing inched to a stop.

Death has now re­leased my mother from her en­trap­ment.

But what sort of life was this at the end, with Mum star­ing va­cantly upon trees out­side her win­dow, from a minia­ture world in­side a room that con­strained her ex­is­tence for a decade?

We bid our mother farewell, and granted her spirit free­dom to roam. I gain so­lace from the knowl­edge that “dy­ing is what the liv­ing do, dy­ing is what the lov­ing do, and that dy­ing is what, to live, each has to do”.

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