It is Sunday and my mother has been dead for just over a day. We, the bereaved, are in the supermarket getting things for dinner. Because even when someone dies there is food to cook and dishes to wash.
We have spread out in the supermarket to get it done quickly. Lisa is sent to find toilet rolls. Graham is getting the mince. Jasper is taking a moment to check out the toys. I am getting Salada crispbread since there is still school tomorrow.
In the biscuit aisle I see a woman, roughly my age, with an older woman. The elder has a walker that she pushes in front of her. The older woman has on comfortable slacks and Hush puppy shoes. The younger woman pushes the trolley and loads it up with their groceries. She looks a little tired – like perhaps she wishes she were doing something else with her Sunday afternoon. They have a large collection of sweet biscuits. Monte Carlos. Mint slice. I imagine the younger woman is the daughter, (I can see the resemblance) and the older woman her mother. They are everywhere these pairs. I see them in the chemist and the waiting rooms of doctor’s surgeries, in the emergency room of the hospital, in post office queues and filling out withdrawal slips in the bank.
When I accompanied my mother on such journeys to the Captain Stirling shopping centre she knew everyone – the pimple-faced, flour-dusted girls in Brumbies, the aging pharmacist, the grey-faced newsagent, the grocer called George. She knew them by name and then the names of their children and their boyfriends and their spouses. She knew how many marriages they had had and the diseases they had recovered from. She knew the degrees their children had studied for and their subsequent careers. She knew when and where they were going on holiday and for how long. She knew how much money the girl in Brumbies needed to save to go on vacationing on the Gold coast. She brought them small going away gifts and welcomed them on their return. She brought them in homemade choc slice for their birthdays and told them if their star sign was one she was compatible with. She invested time and energy in the lives of other people.
June had a way of endearing herself to others. She was memorable, indelible. She thrust herself into their worlds with her inquisitive nature. As her daughter it could be mortifyingly embarrassing to have your mother speak to everyone and not in a hushed tone. At restaurants she always wanted to, and often did, stride back into the kitchen to congratulate the chef.
I was her source to the outside world; the bearer of mandarins, in winter, and grapes in summer, the deliverer of the Woman’s Day and Hello. She loved me and didn’t want to be separated from me in a way that is almost impossible to bear. Sometimes I felt like I was, for her, a reason to be alive. She fought her hardest to stay with us. I am thankful that I was able to be with her when she passed away and to know first hand she did not suffer, but simply seemed to seep effortlessly from this life to what is beyond. As those who have already lost their mothers must know, it is the strangest feeling to know that suddenly your mother, the woman who bore you and who indeed has been the one most intent on your happiness, is no longer watching over you. Now you are grown.
In the days leading up to her death the carers at Hilton Park would come in to speak of their fondness and appreciation for her. They did this because she had developed a relationship with each and everyone of them. It was immensely moving to watch them come in, one by one, and take her hand in theirs and thank her for her kindness and love. They told me how she didn’t complain, how she helped the other residents, how she complimented the cooking and how interested she was in everyone. I will be forever grateful and indebted to her carers and nurses and all the wonderful support they gave Junee from Room 25. That she was able to pass away in the home, she had quickly come to love and be loved, was indeed very special to us, as a family.