I’m back at home. I’m tired and a little jet lagged. I don’t yet fit back into the Alexandria shaped hole I left, and it feels like I have slipped into an alternate universe that is almost but not quite the same. Or that we are all just ghosts passing in the night.
But at the same time, it feels like a plot twist in progress – something is happening that is going to change my life forever.
While I was away, I met the unidentified people my mother hangs out with at her nursing home:
- The woman from the air force family. Her brother’s plane was shot down during the war. Her uncle sank with the HMAS Perth, was captured by the Japanese and survived the Burma Railway.
- The man who worked at NASA and helped get Neil Armstrong to the moon.
- The woman smuggled out of a Nazi death camp with her mother. And miraculously reunited with her brother and father after the war.
- The brilliant scientist who lost the thinking bits of his brain to a cancerous tumour.
- The woman whose 23 rd great-grandchild is due in September.
These seemingly ordinary people have lived extraordinary lives, even though it probably only seems that way because those lives are almost over. They have witnessed incredible moments in history, and I wonder if they knew their significance as they happened, or whether they were just rolling with the punches getting things done. Well, I expect NASA guy knew.
While I was watching my mother sleep, I noticed the photo at the head of this post in her cabinet of treasures. It is my mother’s mother, and this is the first picture I have ever seen of the woman I was originally named after. I know next to nothing about her, and there is no one left to tell me more.
She survived two world wars and made the difficult decision to evacuate her children from London. Despite living in incredible poverty, she always made sure her children were clean and well dressed. And no matter the provocation, she was always a Lady.
My mother is entering the End Stage of her life (as they call it in the aged care sector). While I was there, I signed various papers authorising the provision and withdrawal of certain kinds of treatment and care. It’s a legal requirement that ensures her comfort and an easy death, but it is a disquieting feeling to control the end of another person’s life.
And how each of us has a story to tell, no matter how ordinary our lives seem. Even an ordinary life is extraordinary from a distance.
Can you imagine it?
Was it awful to grow up in a time when phones were wired and fixed to the walls? What was it like when computers were the size of houses and cost enough to bankrupt small countries? When a new car cost a year’s pay and came without power steering or air-conditioning? How tough we had it then.
Maybe we should all make more of an effort to document our stories and label our photos. Leave something about ourselves as individuals, separate from those we leave in that final transition.