This lesson was not the easiest to write. I hope you stick with it as I felt I had to give you the whole memoir. Again, your comments and critique is welcomed. Enjoy
Say Hello, Cry Goodbye.
Not even the expanse of deep ocean and variant geographical states, stopped my conversations with my mother. When I needed a sounding board my mother was that patient person. During a time in my life when everything wasn’t all sunshine and unicorns, my mother was on the other line. There were times, when it seemed like she read my mind and with the softness of her words, she took my worries out of sight. We also shared plenty of stories and laughter, and whenever one of us had a birthday, my mother would call us up and joyfully sing Happy Birthday; a tradition that I make sure get’s done each year for my children and sisters.
*******The year was 2009 and the sun had finally won the battle against the mottled bluish–gray clouds. Columns of yellow danced across the housetops outside searching to turn the shadows into a soft light. It finally penetrated our patio doors and cast shimmering fingers across my living room floor. In front of me sat seven large bags filled with various sized presents, next to the bags, laid five different types of bright baubles and bows, Snowmen and Santa wrapping paper. My scissors and tape close at hand, I was ready to start the process of sorting, cutting, wrapping and labeling the kids Christmas gifts.
Then the phone rang.
“Hi Aunty Helen.”
“Hi Leanne, how are you?”
“I’m good. So… I’m here in granny’s house and gran wants to talk to you.” I could hear shuffling in the background as Leanne handed the phone over to my mother.
My mother took a rattled breath in, “Hi, Helen.” Her voice quieter than usual.
I smiled, “Hiya mam, how are you feeling?”
“Ah, you know me hanging on in there.” She took another labored breath in. “How are you, the kids, and that precious…” my mother was having trouble controlling her breathing, it sounded like her lungs were being weighted down, slowing her breathing and her ability to speak… “Baby girl in your… Belly?”
Hearing my mother struggle breathing was disheartening, I put on a cheery voice and said, “The kids are doing good, excited to get to open double Christmas presents and our precious little girl…” I took a deep breath in and rubbed my well round stomach, “The baby is doing well, Jason and I have also decided on her name.”
“You hav –”
I heard the phone make a clunking sound, my eyes closed as my heart sank. I heard Leanne say, “I’ll get it gran.”
I carried on like nothing had happened, “Yes, her name will be Seren Charity Elsa.” Tears welled in my eyes.
My mother cleared her throat, “Her given name is Welsh, how wonderful. It means Star, you know.” Her weighty breathing was hard to listen to over the phone but she carried on talking, “Now, why on earth do you want…” it sounded like my mother had ‘air’ hunger. Finally, I heard the effortful breath in and on her exhale out she finished her sentence, “to give her my name?” She let out a raspy chuckle then added, “Elsa is an old name.”
I lost control over my tears as they freely flowed, I sniffed and said, “Jason liked the name Star but I persuaded him to use the Welsh saying. Mam, your name is a beautiful and we would like Seren to have it become part of her’s too.”
My mother started to sniffle as she said, “I’d like that. Now, I’ll try to hang on till March, you’re coming home to have the baby aren’t you?”
That was the first whole sentence my mother had said, although towards the end of it, I could hear the fatigue in her voice, she was suffering and there was nothing I could do. I wiped away the drivel that trickled from my nose, as the constant stream of tears dripped off my jaw.
“Mam…” My heart sank. I didn’t know how we could afford to fly home to Wales. “Yes, we’re planning on that.”
“Helen, know that I love….” My mother started gasping for air.
“I love you too, mam and thank –
“– Hi Helen.” Said Leanne.
“Oh, hey Leanne.” My stomach did a flip and I felt queasy, as I could hear my mother in the background wheezing.
“Gran can’t hold the phone and talk for very long anymore. She‘s gone to lay down.”
That feeling of a lump in my throat made its appearance, constricting my air. I tried hard to swallow it away, as I said, “I understand.”
“I’d better go, I need to help Gran to bed and Grampa needs his Weetabix.”
That made me chuckle for a second, my dad had always his routine at 9’o’clock was his supper time, which meant, two Weetabix with milk and a few dashes of sugar on top.
“Thanks for being there with mam. Give her and dad a big hug, and kiss from me, okay, let them know how much I love them.”
Leanne and I sniveled at the same time.
“Take care Aunty Helen.”
“You too, Leanne.”
The phone receiver trembled in my hand, my eyes stung as the tears continued to stream down my cheeks. Dead air echoed in my ear as I stared blankly at those Christmas gifts, the gifts that sang out to me have a jolly holly Christmas. My other hand absent-mindedly gently rubbed my 7 month pregnant belly. I set the phone down, I looked at the gifts once more and decided they could wait. All I could do in that moment… Was sob.
The festivities of Christmas came and went, with too much turkey and treats consumed. The old year was said goodbye to and the new one rang in. Then on Jan 5th 2010 at 6.30 am our phone rang and my stomach sank.
My sister’s voice seemed quieter, doleful. I answered,“Hey Jude.”
In my heart, I knew the reason why she called. My sister began to cry, “Mam… Mammy died this morning.”
Tears streamed down my face, as we both cried in unison and between her whimpers, Judith told me what had happened. I tried to absorb what she was saying, but I just couldn’t and didn’t want to.
After a few minutes more Judith said, “I’ve got to go down dads now.” I choked up, my dad! My poor dad, how will he manage now, I thought. “I’d best get going Helen, I love you and I’ll call you tomorrow okay.”
I had no words to say, all I could do was let out a throaty, “Mmmhmm.”
My sister hung up first and I sat on the sofa in my dark living room and broke my heart.
A numbing fog of sadness and loss invaded my head and body, as I remembered the last time we spoke. I wished I’d had more time to talk with her or wrote down all those tidbits of valuable information she’d given me over the years. I hadn’t even heard Jason come out of our bedroom, until he stood in front of me.
“Helen, are you alright?” He asked.
My puffy red eyes and blank look were all it took for him to know the reason why. Jason sat down next to me, opened his arms and I collapsed into them accepting the only comfort he could give me at that moment in time. Many hours passed and outside life moved on and I knew I had to make that call. I picked the phone as I listened to that all familiar dial tone and a voice say hello. I told my ex-husband that my mother had died and I’d be there when our kids got home from school. Then, for the next few hours I sat on the sofa staring at the darkening skies outside, as I tried to figure out how I would tell my kids that their grandmother was no longer with us.
There is a saying, every heartache makes you stronger, that you can rise above it and as we do we can find out what we’re made of. Yet, for me, in that moment all I felt was heavy hearted and grief stricken. Laying down on the sofa, I broke down and wept again.
I was 30 weeks pregnant, I was advised by my doctor not to make the long flight home for my mother’s funeral. Too much stress for me and the baby. The following week I’d become more withdrawn and the thought of food repulsed me, I only ate small amounts for the baby’s sake. I went about my days shuffling around in a mind fog and the night before my mother’s funeral, I didn’t get much sleep, as the constant lime green glow of the numbers on my nightstand, kept informing me that it would soon be 7am. That was a cheerless, gloomy day in which my bed and it’s soft, safe comforter kept me company.
Maneuvering through crowds of fussy people, narrow aisles and ending up sitting in a blue straight backed, uncomfortable, airplane seat at 35 weeks pregnant is not the best idea, however, that’s what exactly what I did, with an over anxious husband by my side. After much going back and forth with my doctor and calls to my sister, Jason and I made the decision to fly home to Wales. The long flight was smooth without any drastic drops and turns with the accompany green faces. I on the other hand was the jittery and fidgety one. Unborn Seren didn’t seem to notice, she made herself known that all was well, as she tumbled, kicked and wiggled inside the safety of her squishy water womb. My brother-in-law met us at the airport and drove us to his home and as I watched the various building’s, trees and fields, my eyes sparkled with delighted for the first time in a while… Seeing the lush green, rolling hills of home, I sighed and smiled, this was the much needed tonic I‘dbeen craving.
Seeing my sisters smiling faces, warmed my heart, especially when Judith walked through the door with chips and gravy from the chip shop. Just the smell of them set my stomach into growling mode. After devouring my food like a starved crazed dog, we spent the next couple of hours catching up. Then Jason walked and I, waddled down to my dad’s house. As I approached the home I grew up in, my stomach started churning, my palms became cold and clammy. At first I thought it might be the food I just ate didn’t agree with me, although the closer I got to my parents house… It hit me. I knew that when I‘d open the front door, I’d normally say, I’m here, hi mam, hi dad and hear my mother reply, “I’m in here, Helen.” However, today and every other time I would walk through that door, I wouldn’t ever hear her voice anymore.
We reached the front door, my trembling hand on the handle. I pushed down and stepped into the little foyer and called out, “Hi daddy.”
My father was sitting in his usual chair, he looked over his shoulder, smiled and said, “Helen.”
I smiled back and my heart dropped into a new abyss of loss and sadness. I took a few steps towards my dad, his left arm welcoming me. We hugged and cried together and after a little while we broke our hug and talked. Jason got introduced to his new father-in-law and my dad gave his nod of approval.
“Do you have a name for the baby? My father asked.
The name rolled easily off my tongue, “Seren Charity Elsa.” I said.
My father looked at Jason then at me as tears rolled down his cheeks and with his not so clear speech he said, “Your naming her Elsa.”
“Did mammy not tell you?”
Salty tears made fresh tracks down my cheeks, Jason wrapped his arms lovingly around me, as I held my dad’s hand.
My father’s voice was a whisper, “No,” he shook his head, “Elsa didn’t tell me.”
I croaked out, “Is it okay with you that we give the baby mam’s name, dad.” He nodded and we hugged again.
I took me a couple of days to re-coup from the jet lag that held me in its tight grip and all the emotions that flowed through me. I was extremely over due in the sleep department. I knew I had to regain a little more strength before the next hurdle and that hurdle was… My mothers grave.
Sunday morning was visiting with friends and other family member at church. That was followed, with a good old home cooked roast chicken dinner. After the plethora of dishes were washed, dried and put to bed in their designated cupboards, my sisters, Judith, Kaye and I made the short journey by car to The Box Cemetery. From where we stood there was a clear sight line of the fields which we played in as children, and the ocean, a most tranquil place for a final resting place, I thought. I turned and took a couple of steps forward, my eyes contemplated the muddy, covered grave, dotted with small bunches of withering flowers. My eyes misted over, it was hard to look at the brown soil in which my mother’s body lay all alone.
“Once the ground had settled only then will they set mam’s headstone in place.” Judith said amidst her sniffles.
No words were needed as we lovingly cleared the decaying flowers and replaced them with fresh bunches of perky yellow daffodils and deep purple irises. Judith, Kaye and I cried as I said my emotional goodbye to my mother then gentle raindrops began to speckle the ground and tickle our eyelashes and noses. We burst out laughing, with our eyes looking up at the sky, we said, “typical!” Clouds did have a sliver lining as their sprinkling clear droplets helped to wash away our sadness. We returned to Judith’s home, I emotionally spent and I needed to calm my 36 week baby Seren who was tumbling and tossing in my belly and a bar of Cadburys Dairy Milk, did just that.
I’d asked Judith to be with me and Jason in the labor room. After witnessing my mother’s death, I thought witnessing the birth of her niece would be a new start and it was. Seren Charity Elsa, came into this world on Monday March 22, 2010, Weighing 7lbs 1oz, Tears ran freely as we all gazed upon our sweet baby girl. After a couple of hours of broken sleep and nursing Seren, my family came to visit me that evening. Everyone’s eyes lit up like Christmas tree lights, bright and twinkling there was much oohing and aahing at the bright pink bundle of joy before them. They were in awe at the shocking mop of dark black brown hair, donned with a pink hair clip already. My sisters, Judith and Kaye took their turn to cradle Seren, then it was my father’s turn.
With Seren lovingly nestled in his left arm, my father gently rested her on his lap and as he gazed upon our sweet and innocent little girl, he said “Hello, Seren Charity Elsa.” His voice cracking when he said Elsa. A sprinkling of tears trickled down his cheeks and softly landed on his Granddaughter’s blanket. My sisters and I were all sniffling as we wiped away the tears. My brother in law, Mike and my nephews, Matthew, Justin and Joshua looked forlorn. It was sweet baby Seren who broke the melancholy as she squirmed and squeaked, my dad motioned for me to take her from him. The rest of the visiting hours were spent chatting and snapping pictures followed by hugs and kisses goodbye until tomorrow. Two days later I was back at my sisters home. The next couple of weeks slipped away all too quickly and after I got the all clear for myself and Seren, I swaddled her up and laid her in the stroller. I bundled and we went for a little walk.
“Hi mam, guess who I’ve brought with me today?” I smile as I bent over and scooped up Seren.
I stood next to my mother’s grave with my new baby daughter in my arms and said, “Her she is mam, Seren has come to say hello.” I smiled and looked at Seren. “Oh, mammy…” Tears brimmed and spilled down my cheeks, “I wished you could have hung on a little longer and been here to see your new granddaughter.”
“Isn’t she beautiful mam.” Seren stirred and opened her little eyes.
“Judith stayed with me in the labor room, she said it was an amazing experience being there when Seren’s tiny little head popped out covered with all her hair!” I giggled away my tears. I continued to ramble on, choking back my emotions, “I’ll be flying back to America soon mam and I don’t know when I’ll be back to visit.”
Thin rays of sunshine fell upon my face and Seren as it’s warmth swept away my sadness. It left me with a peaceful feeling, that all will be well as the words of the songs my mother would sing to me, echoed through my mind… We’ll keep a welcome in the hillside and Till we meet again.
That day Seren came to smile hello to a grandmother she never got to cuddle with and me, I got to cry goodbye to my dear mother, Elsa.
My mother battled that horrible word, Cancer for 16 years. At the time her diagnosis was not good, not only had it claimed her left breast, it also invaded her lymph nodes and the doctors told her she only had two years maximum. She wouldn’t and didn’t accept that, and with a lifestyle change, extremely healthy eating, she kept fighting those mini battles. Her last year was the hardest and it was not because of the Cancer. Yes, it had weakened her body, not her resolve. What stole my mothers last breath and made her lose the war was, MND – Motor Neurons Disease (ALS/Lou Gehrig in the USA)
(You may also be wondering as to why my father had/has difficulty speaking and unable to hand me my new baby daughter, Seren in the hospital. Well, life dealt him a hard knock at the young age of 41, leaving him paralyzed on his whole left side of his body – and that my friends is another memoir)
Copyright 2014 Helen Feriante. All Rights Reserved.