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Mother Merle shows me how to die

  • 05 June 2019


At about 4am on a cold morning, my brother phoned from the hospital. My final conversation with my mother, while harrowing, was not unexpected. My attempts to thank her for who she was and what she had given to me — to say goodbye — did not suffice. The broken sounds that came out of me woke my wife, who joined in saying a painful farewell.

Goodbye. Fare well. Happy trails? Even when knowing that death means an escape from pain, weakness and frustration — even when knowing that the person is actually glad to depart — it is weird to feel you are expected to be happy that someone you love is soon to be dead. Surreal.

Mother Merle was in a hurry to leave this life, and the cancer that had drained her strength for four years. She was over it. She was saying her goodbyes to her husband and their kids. Her 'God be with you's. Mum was out of there; gone by midday on Anzac Day, lest we forget.

Merle always had impeccable timing, but she was never usually in a rush (comfortably late was her preference over early). When the doctors and nurses thought her death could be a matter of days, my mind had raced, calculating timings of the interstate drive or jumping on a plane.

But the hospital staff didn't know Mum. Having been through her last chats, she gave up the ghost. While the morphine doubtless helped speed her progress onwards, my family confirmed she was coherent, free from pain and discomfort; she was at peace. That was a saving grace for my family in that hospital room. Mum was eager, even joyful, to leave her body.

A woman of faith, a practical, calm and compassionate person of 76 years, Mum had weathered many storms. She stood ably at the helm of her family with her husband, helping steer four children, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren and many relatives and friends on steady courses.

Mum was ready to go home. She'd made her peace with the world and the people she loved. She was living in the presence of the God she'd pursued from childhood. But Merle's departure for elsewhere, for parts unknown, has left an ache that won't go away. The woman who had taught me how to live was now teaching me how to die — with courage, grace and peace; with anticipation at the next great