It’s as loud as it is quiet
My mother died one week ago. Our long and complicated relationship is over; and a new one begins.
We’ve worked out that I was the last person to see her live and the first person to find her deceased.
I don’t even know where to begin with that; and here I am writing about it in a public space.
But I want to. I need to.
It was my mother’s unusual silence that alerted my sister and I to the possibility that something might be up with mum. Not long out of hospital, she’d been a bit amiss with responding to texts but complained (boy did she complain!) that we were harrassing her when it took her 3 hours to respond to her texts.
But last Saturday morning she didn’t respond after 3 hours from texts from my sister and her friend. I hadn’t messaged her since I’d seen her the day before.
I wasn’t too worried at that point, but given it was a fall that lead her to a recent hospitalisation and a fall after returning home, I knew I needed to check on her.
I texted her and heard nothing. I was at the shops at the time and checked with her hairdresser: she had missed her appointment that morning. Nothing that unusual given she regularly cancelled appointments and drove people crazy that way.
I drove to her house, a short distance away. I parked and walked up her driveway to her front door.
And that’s when the noise began.
From silence to deafening loudness
Next to mum’s front door are glass windows. As soon as I reached them I could see her collapsed on the floor between her dining table and kitchen bench.
Mum! I screamed, letting myself in the front door which was unlocked.
I ran to her screaming Mum! Mum! I touched her back — she was on her side — and I knew.
She was dead and had been for many hours.
I screamed and screamed, the sound of my voice and my rapid breathing spreading throughout the air.
I found her landline phone after realising my mobile phone had just died. Unbelieveable.
I dialled the emergency number, the ringing taking forever as I kept rushing around, breathing hard and fast, repeating Mum Mum, over and over.
I was hysterical. I touched her over and over, lightly, not believing what I was seeing or feeling.
I was connected to a voice that seemed to take forever to reach me. Doing their duty they proceeded to try and talk me into turning her over onto her back to commence CPR.
She’s gone! I screamed. She’s gone she’s gone. Mum! Oh my God oh my God, she’s gone!
Try and turn her on her back, the male voice said.
You don’t understand. She’s cold and hard and stiff and purple. Her eyes are open, she’s fucking gone!
I tried so so hard to roll her over. She was tiny, very frail, but moving her was so hard given the state of her body. I gave up, then started again, yelling at myself in my head to not be so pathetic and to just TRY.
I tried again, putting the phone on speaker to do so. I managed to roll her over, her right arm them sticking straight up in the air.
Rigor mortis had set in, what the fuck was I doing?? Why the fuck was he getting me to do this?! I knew the answers to these questions but I tried anyway.
But I stopped once she was on her back. I couldn’t take it anymore.
She was dead and there was nothing I could do.
My mother was gone.
The paramedic on the phone stayed with me while I was waiting for the ambulance that I knew could do nothing.
Just breathe, he said. Go outside if you need to.
But I couldn’t leave my mother’s body.
I couldn’t stay next to it, the horror of it was more than what I could take. But the thought of leaving her distressed me even more.
Somewhere in this mess I used my mother’s mobile phone to call my sister — who was driving at the time — and hysterically yelled that mum was gone and she needed to get over here immediately.
I feel bad about the way I did that. I was out of my mind and body with shock.
I was screaming and crying and swearing at the poor paramedic. Where is the ambulance?! I asked and asked. Why can’t I hear anything?
The paramedic worked hard in his calm methodical way to calm me and stay with me — I didn’t want to be left alone — until the sound of the sirens emerged from the afternoon quiet.
I can hear them! I said in my now rapid-fire speech down the phone.
Then they stopped. Why have they stopped?!! I demanded down the phone. Because they turn them off when they arrive at their destination that phone paramedic said.
Okay okay, I said. Pacing and breathing and talking and listening, and all the while being out of my mind with complete and utter overwhelm.
I ran out the front, phone to my ear still, telling the now in-person paramedics where to come. The phone paramedic let me go, and I thanked him for staying with me through my hysteria and swearing and confusion.
The new sounds begin
She’s gone, I said to the paramedics as they collected their gear from the ambulance.
They were so calm and steady, watching and listening to me as I rushed back inside.
I can’t say my grip on reality or time was good at this point but I swear one of them walked in, took one look at mum and stated withing 10 seconds of entering her house:
I’m sorry to tell you but your mother is gone.
Yes, I replied. Yes, yes, I know, yes, ok, thank you, yes.
I battled with mum’s phone to try and reach my parner. He later told me the texts were confusing before I rang on mum’s phone hyesterical and asking him to come.
One of the paramedics came up to me and said: There’s no need to rush now. Take your time.
These words hit me in a thud.
He’s right, I realised. She’s gone and there’s nothing anyone can do. I can proceed more slowly now. I felt relieved.
I was offered water and seat, as they began their procedures in regards to a deceased person.
Their overalls rustled and I could hear their quiet, calm and deep tones as they went through their processes.
My sister arrived, the police arrived, my partner arrived. Everything became busy and distressing, and yet was strangely organised and calm.
Mum was quiet and yet her house was filled with strangers and new noises, going about their business as my sister knelt next to our mother, crying, and I turned away in my own distress.
It was another image and sound I knew would stay stuck in my mind.
The noise since the death
Anyone who has lost a close loved one would be familiar with the busyness and noise in the immediate aftermath of a death.
Phone calls, text messages, emails, constant conversations. I knew the deal and I welcomed it as a way to stave off what I knew was waiting.
The sight of my mother’s body, one arm twisted, one eye open one closed (noth both open as I had thought. In fact, her glasses nose bridge plastic bit had lodged in one eye holding it open), her palor after lying there for a suspected 12 hours; those images are loud in my mind.
I am a lover of quiet but this time — for now — I need the noise.
I’m drinking wine or gin most nights, and have taken only one sleeping tablet the first night after I found her.
And that’s ok for now.
A song she used to play on the piano when I was younger has been floating through my head. We must have that at the funeral, I thought. Go away now, I’ve also thought, feeling plagued by the song like a broken record.
There have been no more text messages or phone calls from my mum. And here never will be again.
A few days before her death she had a left a voice mail on my mobile phone, which I deleted after I listened to it. It had actually crossed my mind to keep some voicemails of people close to me just in case.
But I didn’t do it. I didn’t keep my mother’s voice.
And now there is silence in the space where my mother used to be, but the loudness within me is deafening.
Death has senses just like us mortals do. You can see it, hear it, smell it, taste it and feel it.
Death is a multisensory experience that shows up when you least expect it sometimes. Death lights you up in that it tears through every cell of your body when it comes for someone you love.
Death whispered in my mother’s ear and she listened.
Goodbye mum x