the past never gets old

POSTCARD#496: Bangkok: In the mind’s eye, it’s a few years back and I’m with my mother in the Care Home in Scotland, holding her hand and she is still sleeping. Her partner Jay, is with me, he is a North American Indian, but this was his secret, he was just that guy from Wyoming – even then he made the effort to remain incognito. You’d hardly notice anything different about him, except that he had a kind of straight-backed posture walking around the town. He took care to wear the same kind of clothes as everyone else, had large-lensed glasses and a cap, and could blend in with the population perfectly as long as he didn’t have to speak. When he did, out came the American intonation, and he was instantly different.

Jay came to Scotland with the US Oil Company to work on the North Sea Oil Rigs, and was somewhere up there in the hierarchy of employees. Then he had chest pains, rushed to hospital, had open-heart surgery twice and took early retirement. The second time he had surgery lasted for a few hours. I thought that experience must have had a major effect on him psychologically (spiritually), but he never talked about it. Jay and Mother, had been together for more than twenty years and settled into a coastal village community in the North East of Scotland. He also had his boat moored in the small harbour there, and a small utility vehicle for getting around town for supplies.

During the months of her illness, Jay and I shared the time with her. One of us would spend part of the day or the night with her, at the Care Home, then we switched over. During the off-time, whoever was free hung out on his boat. There was the house too, now become a bachelor pad, television, a kitchen and dishwasher, with no woman taking care of things.

Then the library, for me, within walking distance, and my reservation for computer time to check emails. Jay had had some training on how to use the computer but (I think) his fingers were too thick and kinda stiff and he couldn’t strike the keyboard accurately. So, that was that… and he allowed the internet to pass him by, sadly. He used a very old Vodaphone with small screen display held in place with scotch tape. It had a phone memory of the numbers he’d call and could receive basic text messaging. It was all he needed.

If we were in mother’s room at the same time, we took turns to sit next to her holding her hand and trying to include her in our conversation. On that particular morning, without thinking, I gave Jay my camera-phone to take a photo of mother and me. He held it up pointed it at us but nothing happened; he couldn’t press the button to take the picture. It was this problem with his fingers. Then laughter – well, you had to see the funny side of things. Try again and another silence with incoherent mumbling in a Wyoming dialect… more laughter, and we were getting a bit loud, forgetting the grave circumstances of our being here.

I said to Jay: “If Elizabeth was here, she would be laughing too!” And it was significant that I didn’t say ‘Mother,’ I said ‘Elizabeth,’ which was her name of course and it was Jay’s way of addressing her. Then, just at that moment, he managed to press the button on the phone-camera and it was one of these old-fashioned shutter-click sounds, quite loud and an unusual ‘c-l-ick’ sound. That’s when we heard the sound of mother’s last breath. A long throat-gargling outbreath… and when it came to an end, there was no inbreath. We waited in silence for the in-breath to come, but only the sound of the rain on the roof window. I have to accept the fact that she has stopped breathing. This is the moment she dies and I see her move from present time into the past tense – irretrievably gone from our world.

I hear Jay calling the doctor on the room’s phone and in a moment, Doctor comes in a white uniform and a stethoscope to listen to Mother’s heart. Everything in the room poised for a moment. Then she puts away the stethoscope and leaves the room without saying anything. Suddenly I see that everything is happening in the present moment and Mother, now gone from our forever-present time dwells, in a sense, in the past; can only be accessed as a remembered event.

The past never gets old, always brought back into present time, refreshed, revealed again in the memory of those remembering it. Sometimes I wonder how it would have been if we hadn’t been fooling around with that phone-camera, and Mother’s passing might have been in more comforting circumstances? But who’s to say there would have been more comforting circumstances than having her partner and son by her side all the way. The fact is, there is this element of comedy here; it would seem she was going to have her photo taken as she stepped out of this life and into a new life – there was laughter, it was a joyful event. She would have recognised our voices and my calling her by her given name, which is something I never did before, this was a reference to Self, a calling away from that old Self and into a new life. There is a Buddhist belief that the Bhavaṅga citta bears all the characteristics of that last moment of life and becomes the Patisandhi (rebirth) citta in the next life.

Postscript: Regular readers may remember I’ve referred to my mother’s death in these pages already, but didn’t include the details on Jay and the bigger picture of our interaction with Mother at the end of her life. About Jay being a North American Indian, this was confirmed by an American friend in Japan who grew up in an Indian Reservation – his father was the Superintendent. My friend took one look at the photo I have of Jay, and recognised his features immediately. I always thought that for Jay, the North East of Scotland was the perfect place for him because at that time, the population had no idea what a North American Indian would even look like, and Jay could happily sink into anonymity. Jay passed away three years after Mother, in their house in Scotland.

Image: another pic of the bougainvillea plant on our balcony.

5 thoughts on “the past never gets old

  1. This is beautiful and very moving, Tiramit!! How nice to be surrounded by your child and your husband!! Very, very blessed and who knows your laughter over the picture may have made her at ease enough to go. Very touching!! Some tears…

    • Thanks Ellen it’s the kind of comment I was hoping to receive. I like to think our laughter may have made her at ease enough to go through that final portal. She enjoyed laughter and it encouraged us to come up with more comic situations to make her laugh again. So, you’re right she was blessed with this ability to see the brighter side of life.

  2. Smiling …. It’s no coincidence that her passing was to the sound of laughter with her two loving men present. Thank you for sharing about Jay. I lived in Aberdeen during the oil boom and recall some interesting characters from all over the world!

    • Thanks, Val for this: “It’s no coincidence…” it was intended to be, you could say, in the natural flow of things. In the laughter, she’d have recognised Jay’s voice and mine, then me calling her by her own name. An instant of shared love and laughter. I missed the oil boom although I was there from time to time – maybe we passed each other on Union Street.

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