A person devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future. — Camus
Sometimes even to live is an act of courage. — Seneca
I have been away. My mother’s next-door neighbour phones. At Mom’s apartment the paper has not been picked up for two days. No one answers the neighbour’s knock and Mom’s phone goes repeatedly to voice mail. Do you think you could come? The neighbour is worried.
My relationship with my mom (who lived with my family for 12 years before wanting more independence, a place of her own) is my anchor, forged in a trinity of love, respect and friendship, but lurking beneath that solid surface is a living, expanding, cancerous fear. I am all too aware of the dangerous precipices that rim her abyss; the secret acts she holds away from the light, the demon faces of depression and addiction, the ones that own her, the companions she abandons us all for and visits with increasing frequency.
We have weathered crises before and there have been other calls with many interventions, other false alarms, and other times when I have successfully thrown her a rope to climb out of the void. But somehow today, I have a premonition. In many ways, this is the call I have waited for, feared, for most of my life.
Recently, I dream that my mother, small and alone, is an astronaut walking in space. Her tether to the space station strains, frays, then severs. Against the blackness I see her alone, spinning, spinning away into the silence. Another time, I dream that I walk her quiet hallway, turn the lock of her door and call her name. In a spectral silence I hear no sound other than the echo of my voice. She and I discuss these dreams and she reassures me these are only dreams, not a part I will ever play in her drama. For me, I tell her, the painful part of the dreams is that we never get to say goodbye.
In a state of altered reality I prepare to answer the neighbour’s call. I get into the car already aware that I move toward a different future, toward another destiny, different from the one I had planned, the one where my mother sees her grandchildren leave childhood, graduate from school, university, marry, and have children of their own. They love her, depend on her, expect her to be there to share these moments.
I am in a trance, the motions automatic in a hypnotic drive across town, but the mind is a swirling tornado erasing all sense and action save the solid stone of anger and betrayal that choke the throat and the fear, the omniscient fear that thickens every moment and compresses time in to a colossal weight, impossible for a daughter to bear. Perhaps I am wrong? Perhaps this is simply a false alarm and I am buoyed on the wings of hope once more. I take a deep breath and drive on.
I arrive at the apartment I know so well and walk the quiet hallway. Routines and habits comfort me, so I do what I always do, I pick up the papers and the mail for my mother before I engage the lock, open the door. I call my mother’s name into silence and receive nothing more than the echo of my voice. I know that one step over the doorsill is the difference between premonition and reality and I feel my heart break, break into a thousand shards, shards that will bleed this day and forever. For me, the agony of my new reality is that my mother and I will never get to say goodbye.
Dr. April Sanders writes on a variety of topics for The Morning Star. She is a physician at Sanders Medical Inc. Vein and Laser in Vernon, B.C.