"I'm really a very lucky person." — Benita Hart
My sainted mother, Benita Hart, is growing old ungracefully.
There's no getting around it: my mother is dying. Not of any specific disease, but of that monstrous universal, life.
As she puts it, "my spine is crumbling" and her new(er) artificial knee rattles around, causing her intense pain on very little activity. She isn't quite housebound yet, but it's a near thing. She's basically given up on cooking because standing at the stove and bending or reaching for things in the cupboards hurts.
I rather suspect that, on some level, pretty much everything hurts her, at least a little.
And yet, "I'll consider myself lucky," she said to me the other day when I was up to Sudbury for a visit, "if I have another five good — productive — years left. Really lucky if I get ten."
And yet, even if she doesn't get those five years beyond her current 81 — if she died tomorrow — I think it would be safe to say that she died happy.
My first full day in Sudbury, Tuesday, I took her out to run some errands. Well, two. A stop at a medical supply store to return one assistive device and to purchase another — some sort of portable chair-seat tilter to help the infirm stand up and a long bench to assist in getting in and out of the bath-tub, respectively. Then off to the grocery store, which (for her) meant getting out of the car right at the entrance, hobbling inside and taking a seat on a motorized shopping cart I was pleasantly surprised to see are provided for the handicapped customers.
And then to home, that was it. But the next day, she was forced to spend almost entirely in bed. She'd woken with her knee seized up and needing powerful pain-killers for the rest of the day. (On the plus side, I was gratified that she marathoned the excellent Sally Wainright mini-series, Happy Valley, despite that programs bleak and sometimes brutal content.)
Every time I see her, she's smaller and more fragile and this trip made that which I've understood intellectually for a long time viscerally clear: this visit could easily turn out to be my last visit with her; the next email or phone call could be it.
And yet, this terminal stage of her life, with its pain, loss of energy and focus, sees my mother happier than I think I have ever known her to be.
Although many (perhaps most) of her old friends left Sudbury over a relatively short time, she has managed to cultivate a new (and mostly younger) group of friends, including a special friendship with a much younger man (well, he's in his early 60s, I think) that isn't quite romantic but shares a lot of characteristics of a romance. He is also the man who drove her to Ottawa to visit Raven and I last year). And a renewed sense of professional purpose through her weekly gig on CBC Radio, which brings in welcome money and certain amount of local celebrity, which she is enjoying every bit as much as she ought to.
She isn't in denial about death's proximity, nor is the old atheist scared of it (No heroic measures! she says, and she means it), but she plans to keep on living just as long as there is joy to found in it. When the pain or the disability comes to outweigh the joy, then, she says, she will be happy to let go.
At the risk of sounding sappy, me old mum's attitude towards life (and death) is frankly inspiring. (And the fact that 81 is only 31 years away from where I am now is frankly sobering. It's been nearly a month since I turned 50 and those 24 days went awfully god damned fast. That's sobering, too.)
Speaking of my birthday, I'll leave you with a brief video Raven took after we returned from birthday weekend of skating and snow-shoeing in Montebello, Quebec, at left.