Birth/Rebirth: The Birth of Adulthood
Guest Post by Bec
Bec is an amazing friend and woman. She completed her PhD on nurses in the Korean War and currently lives in Australia.
It began with a BBQ chicken. Well, it began a few days before, but let’s start with the chicken. I was standing in my Mum’s kitchen. Family friends gathered in the backyard waiting for lunch and I was confronted with the chicken, or more precisely the responsibility of slicing the chicken. Mum had always done this.
All my life, I’d watched her neatly separate the pieces, portion out the stuffing, and dish the chicken on to each plate.
Now, Mum was gone, I was left to cut the chicken and despite watching her all those years I really had no idea how to do it. I knew it was ridiculous, but in that moment, only a few days after she died, I found that responsibility overwhelming. It was the culmination of a realisation that had begun in the hospital, that I was now the adult and I no longer had my Mum around to guide me.
In many ways the death of my Mum signalled the birth of my adulthood. Although I was 28, married, had just submitted a PhD and had been living out of home for a few years I hadn’t really felt like an adult until I lost my Mum.
Her death was relatively sudden. Her health had declined during the year, she’d had difficulty breathing and lost weight. I worried that it might be cancer, but tests had found nothing conclusive. In November 2010, during a surgical biopsy the surgeons discovered an untreatable tumour had wrapped around her heart and lungs. Her heart stopped. They revived her but she fell into a coma from which she did not wake up. In the three days that she was on life support I waited with my family in a private room in the intensive care ward. A social worker met with my Dad, my younger sister and I. Close family and friends visited. The medical team updated us on her status. A nurse reassured me that they would not have her on life support if there wasn’t hope. Though I probably knew better, I clung to that hope.
Initially I hoped that they would find a way to treat her. I hoped that we would have the chance to fight the cancer together. We had done that before, I am a childhood cancer survivor. We had beaten the disease once, I hoped we could beat it again. It became clear quite quickly that this was not a cancer that could be beaten. So, I began to hope that she would wake up, just for a little while, just long enough to say goodbye. Just long enough to tell her that my thesis had passed examination. Just long enough to tell her I loved her one last time. By the second day, I realised Mum would not wake up. The loss of this last hope was, I think, the last moment of my youth and the birth of my adulthood.
I spent the last day Mum was alive in her room. I talked to her all day, I don’t know if she could hear me, but the lovely nurse told me people in a coma can sometimes hear you so I talked as if she could. I told her about my thesis, I told her I loved her and I told her it was okay for her to go, even though I really wanted her to stay.
That afternoon the doctor told us we would need to decide who would be in the room when the life support machine was switched off. Mum had been the decision maker in our family, without her we didn’t really know what to do. I talked to my Dad and sister and ultimately I made the final decision. I think of it as the first decision of my adult life and I think it will probably remain the hardest decision I have ever made. We stood by her with a few close friends as she took her final breath.
In the years since I lost Mum I’ve had many of the ‘BBQ chicken’ moments that started this story. The moments in life when I realise I can’t talk to her, or look to her for guidance. Sometimes it’s a simple as watching a movie I know she’d love, hearing a song on the radio that we played at her funeral, reading a poem she loved, or wishing I’d paid attention to how she made seafood crepes. I miss her too in the big moments in life, at my graduation, when I want to ask advice about my career or tell her about my travels. Mum was my champion, she believed in my dreams. An important part of my new life as an adult has been pursuing my dreams without Mum’s unconditional support, though I still hold it in my heart.
In my nascent adulthood I have learned to look to some wonderful friends for the guidance and the support that Mum once offered so freely. I was recently touched by a comment from my very good friend Spunky that she is proud of what I have achieved in my career. Given that I can’t share this success with my Mum, it means a great deal to have a friend say the words that I know my Mum would have felt.
I also like think that adulthood is about a broader perspective in life, one that is no longer self-centric. So, in the time since Mum died I have tried to be a champion for the dreams of others. To offer guidance when it is sought and, like Spunky, take pride in the achievements of my friends. I miss my Mum every day and I know I always will, but the loss taught me to cherish the love of other women in my life and for that I am grateful.