Thursday, July 26, 2007

1982 Apartheid Durban, Mom's Death, Addington Hospital

Edna nursed mom, who drank Complan for months, unable to stomach solids. Mom became skinnier and her skin browned. Once mom fell out of bed and Edna bedded her again. Saint Martins Anglican ladies with Zulu maids brought tureens filled with soup for mom. My old girlfriend Ursula's mom often visited mom, who endured her cancer pain without complaint, goofed on painkillers. Mom wound up her affairs, organizing her own cremation and memorial service, not wanting to be buried in dad's Scottish, red -granite grave. "Care for Fraser after I go," said mom. Her guts swelled into a hot, hard ball. Her body atrophied. Her mind stayed sharp.

During mom's last days at Addington Hospital, mom lay on her deathbed in a private ward. On her last night, I stood at mom's bedside, while an oncologist scowled with scaly eyes, his toxins useless. Helpless, he left mom's bedside. Whenever mom had been in Addington, doctors gave no information about mom to Fraser and me. Nurses stuffed a tube up mom's nose, removing black stomach crud. Mom's mouth opened and closed, her throat swallowing, like a fledgling. Nurses inserted an intravenous-drip in mom's forearm, and removed the drip hours before mom lost consciousness. Nurses rubbish-bagged mom before she died, (euphemism body-bag), covering her with a white sheet. Mom's 72 year old eyes rolled back, sclerotics twitching for hours. I couldn't hold mom's dying hand, while she groaned for hours. A nurse shooed me out of the ward.

Mom's groaning stopped. I wondered what the nurse had done with mom's pillow? "Nurse keep mom in bed while I call Fraser and Edna." The nurse objected. I insisted. Nurses removed mom's rings from her fingers, then stuffed mom's false-teeth into her mouth. Edna wailed then wept, while Fraser and I grieved at mom's bedside.

In Glenwood staffroom, while handing me my class's reports, Mr. Maher harangued staff about shoddy reports. "I need to take leave," I said. "My mother died,"

"Why've you Tippexed your reports?"

"If I punch Mr. Maher," I thought, "my teaching career's over." I about-turned, walked out, drove away, and wept. I returned to Glenwood, found Blikskottel, and said, "Tell Mr. Maher I Tippexed your errors in my boys' reports!"

That afternoon, Leah and I had a picnic at Northpark Reserve, then I body-surfed at North Beach. That night, in Cato Manor I shot a run -over dog with mom's .22 pistol. The dog groaned like mom had. I dumped the dog in a ditch.

The next day, Meneer Basson and Blikskottel, fuckwits, commiserated dad's death - twenty years too late. Other staff lined up and shook my hand. Mr. Maher sent me an apology note, as he'd embarrassed himself.

Unrest: Lesotho, Maseru. 42 blacks were killed by SADF. (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of SA Report, Vol 3, Macmillan, London, 1999).

St. Martins memorial service was crowded, as mom had influenced thousands of people. (Years later, strange adults told me mom had taught them). A Methodist minister quoted from the Apocrypha, then we sang "Abide with me..." After the service, Fraser and I greeted mourners. One of mom's lady friends said, "We remember your mom from our varsity days. She was different then..." To me, mom was a depressed griever after brother Paul's death, not an irresponsible student.

For years, mom had written letters to white mothers who'd lost children in "tragic accidents." Mom had yelled at white boys riding bikes on pavements: "Get off the pavement! You're a danger to pedestrians!" She'd attended seances with neighbours trying to contact Paul. She'd attended Spiritualist Church services in Umbilo, where a medium once "saw" a boy pushing a bike down the church aisle. Mom was impressed. I wasn't.

Another friend said, "Your mom had insisted a razor was packed in her bag, so she could shave her legs in hospital." Others remarked on mom's wisdom. Some chuckled over her terrorizing Anglican and Methodist bible-study groups. Con, Cantabile Singers director, hugged Fraser and me. We talked to mourners, then plodded home.

We placed mom's ashes in an urn, in a wall-niche near Stellawood Cemetery gate, far from family graves. On a white marble slab covering her niche, we inscribed:

Valmai Esslemont nee Cosnett
God help us. Peace at last.

Mom had sung a cadence for Fraser and me and servants' extended families. She'd lived in Durban North half her life, and provided us with the best stability she could. Mom gifted us truth and morality. She gave us a love for learning; English; reading; performing-arts; trekking. Her strengths were bravery; endurance; single-mindedness; assertiveness; communication; religion; loyalty to friends and relatives. On the dark side, mom had been difficult to live with, as she was a forceful character, and had been sick for over twenty years after family deaths, with repressed rage; nerve-deafness; anxiety; depression; amoebic dysentery, undiagnosed for years; liver cancer.

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