This piece was originally featured in Shit Brick Fences of Melbourne.
Shit Brick Fences of Melbourne is a photo publication that features examples of nauseating, surreal and just plain depressing fences of Melbourne's signature brickwork, accompanied by whimsical off-beat stories by the site's founder, Jim. We are delighted to share one of his stories.
It was likely a brief moment of lucidity we figured, she tried not to breathe. The hospital had called and said she'd taken a turn for the worse, she'd stopped breathing for two minutes. It wasn't the first time they'd called.
Dementia is a slow ebb, it leaches out the soul and the spirit and leaves the carriage, aimless, rudderless. It turns the grieving process into a chromatograph, stretched over years. When my father died and I was asked if I wanted to view his body I declined, the part I knew, the part I'd had a relationship with was gone. And so it is with my mum, it's her sinewy body that swam until not long ago, her bandy legs, her crooked but steady hands, but not her wise unshakable untiring good, not her clever understated humour, not her patient and loving motherness.
After what could be hundreds of little bleeds, strokes, TIA's they call them. My mother’s brain is riddled with holes, shot away. But unlike Bonnie and Clyde's car unbelievably, inexplicably, impossibly, it still contains life.
We can only guess, but we're pretty sure that if she had her wits, she'd be gone, but the incredible strength that we always suspected she’d had just won't let go, it won't let her go. In our own ways we each assure her that "everything is taken care of, we've got it all sorted out" in the hope that her urge to watch over and protect us will be satisfied and she will die.
It's the hardest thing to say, we want her to die.
The Reaper has wheeled out five kids: cancer, uncountable brain bleeds and all sorts of other things that have killed people — but she has survived. It has become a dark joke among us. Very occasionally she recognises us but mostly it's fear or discomfort, terribly sad.
I pressed record. I envisaged a huge stylus plowing through wax committing the memories to a groove. Years of rehearsal and now a single performance to end it all.
We had driven through the granite country, they talked in the back. I drifted as I steered, Steve Earl at barely audible volume. Mist. I know that road like the back of my hand, even better than I knew her probably, my mother.
Uncomplicated, honest, good. Hopeful, tough, happy.
Everything had been organised already, of course, between her and her daughters. I watched, detached with a mixture of relief and an expectation of sadness, but the rehearsal had taken the emotion away from the final performance. There was no shock, no adrenaline, it was like a dream. All week The Outsider had run through my mind, even to the point of humming Killing an Arab by the Cure.
How many people can they bury six feet deep in the same hole, I wondered. A magic trick.
It was quiet cold and clear, and all those people? They're just the family, there'll be more later, wizened caricatures of people I knew as a kid.
I sang the song that was stuck on the jukebox when they honeymooned 65 years ago as they lowered her in, they're together again
Jim grew up in country Victoria son of a lawyer cum preacher and a nurse, he tried university first but left for rock and roll.He's dug holes, picked fruit, pushed patients and worked with sheep, painted cars and pulled beers. Jim has turned his hand to woodwork, steelwork, guitars and writing, songs, poems and short stories. He's still growing up, slowly.