I went out and bought white flowers. Brought them back. Sat them on my table. I resolved: I no longer want to live in somewhere with an air of mild depression, where the carpet crinkles under my foot, constantly shedding anxiety. I said: I have built a pretty fortress, a sanctuary of steel and concrete, where I can rest away from harm, but where I am always alone.
These flowers make me happy. They honour the whiteness lighting up parts of my mind. They cherish the rain pounding inside me, and open like my springtime would, if only I’d let it.
I’ve been away from home a long time. This soup is thick and I am hungry. I'm craving sustenance, a liquid to keep me alive. My body is thinning, as my mother's thins, and will thin, one day, to nothing. That’s the day I give her back – my earth, my body, my shrine, my home. But I cannot wait until that time to start the letting go, for my own body to separate from hers, to find itself among the brambles, slightly cut, with the rain beating on it again.
I came from her body, it is no surprise that hers became entangled in mine, or that it becomes me who is lying there in that nursing home bed, flaccid and paling into the vacuumed air. It is no surprise I don’t want to let her body go, or that I compare my own flesh to hers every day – see my arms fattening as hers do, lines appearing in my skin as hers wrinkle, my thighs plumper as hers slacken under sheets.
When her body transformed the first time, from healthy and normal to deadened and useless, I loved it even more. As the metal of the hoist came nearer, we let out nervous laughter, held the bar steady, trying to make sure she didn’t fall any more times than she already had. We all did things that broke us and made us bigger by the breaking.
But it isn’t me in a hospital bed, in a calm and shallow nursing home, waiting to die. I'm not yet 72 years old. I've not yet been a mother. I touched her body like it was a precious sculpture when I was little, when she was so beautiful. And I see no difference now - still beautiful, still wandering in her mind, inaccessible, all-giving. But the earth is taking her, and I won’t let it take me with it. My time isn’t done.
My body is abundant with grief. It yelps up my spine and faces me in the morning. It's a beautiful and peaceful thing, my body, when I accept it. At night, I dream I’m covered in mud, and that starlight is eating me – creeping up my toes, into my creases, nestling through my hair like sand over moon-stained beaches. Backed onto a cliff edge, I throw back my arms and laugh. I give my mother back to all that made her. My own child will survive if I learn how to look after her.
My friend said to me Go back to that place, back to where you felt safe. So I walked up the drive to the Poor Clare's Convent and knocked on the door. The windows streamed light through them, the benches were hard and I could hear the nuns singing for Jesus.
This is the place where saints surround me and I can, for once, look my mother in the face and say It’s okay, Mum, and mean it. Cause I saw another face in hers. Taking my coat back out into the world, I am not the same person as when I entered.
The white flowers live for all of us. They bloom, shrivel; they give off scent while they’re still living. We can make this life more beautiful. Let’s do that. Let’s make it better than it could be. Make it bloom.