Chapter 21 14 AUGUST 1953
Mum was in a shared room with nothing of her own apart from what she wore and toiletries in a little drawer. Occasionally when I visited, I met a member of Jehovah's Witnesses who expressed surprise that I was no longer involved. "Aren't you still in the "truth'?" they asked incredulously. Visiting the sick or needy to encourage and comfort was not a requirement for them. They spoke gloomily of feelings of foreboding about how hopeless they thought people felt in the face of the wickedness of the world. They suggested that the wonders of the world could not have happened by chance which is what they seemed to think evolution was. I knew that no serious student of geology (including fossils), anthropology, archaeology or other sciences considered that it had happened by chance, but by processes such as survival of the fittest and by continual refinement of characteristics over many millions of years to suit the environment. They spoke of life as being sacred, whether it was pleasant or an unrewarding, hopeless struggle. I thought of the increasing millions of people who never for a moment experienced freedom from hunger. I refrained from trying to explain my views to people with entrenched attitudes. I said nothing to indicate I thought Mum was clinging to her beliefs because she needed the feeling of security it gave. Doubt was not tenable for her. As in the past all the mysteries that man could not explain, were ascribed to gods or God. There was no need to worry her further. I did not pretend to believe things I thought illogical, and this created a gulf between us.
Most of her visitors were her brothers and sisters and Grandma Kinny. I went regularly, spent some time with her, then went on to see Auntie Dorrie or hurried off to some activity.
Mum had spent two years in the home at Artarmon near Auntie Dorrie's who had taken over the responsibility of doing her washing. She was well-liked by the other patients, mostly 30 years older and by the matron and staff. Gradually she became weaker and at 51 could look forward to nothing better than spending the rest of her life in an old people's home but she did not complain. She could no longer go for drives or even get dressed. As she had nothing else, she collected about her items for which she had no use, but which she could not bear to part with... papers in which sweets had been wrapped, hair from her brush (to make pin cushions one day), every magazine she had been given. I found it extraordinary and could not understand what consolation it was to her. It was difficult to find anything suitable to give her, as she was unable to do anything, had to be washed and sometimes fed, her diet was restricted because fluid was collecting in her body and her weakened organs could not eliminate it, and although she had never been overweight, she now looked like a pregnant woman. The condition was known as dropsy, or oedema. Her older brothers still helped with the major part of the cost of the home.
She had little connection with my life. We had little communication. I knew I was letting her escape. She never expressed to me anything negative. She knew she had done her best as she saw it and achieved what she could in a very limited life. She always showed pleasure at my expanded achievements, seeing the country, going to concerts and learning about the world rather than looking for material acquisitions. From her I had learnt to accept what I could not change and try to find the benefits. I should consider other people and contribute as I could to the groups I belonged to, but at times I was absorbed in my own anxieties and I could have been more thoughtful of her. Her greatest regret was I had left the "truth'.
At the time there was experimental work in the laboratory on hearts of animals and in autopsies. There had been some success during the war on wounded servicemen, followed by open heart surgery and valve implants, but Mum was too ill to benefit from any such radical procedures, even if she had seen it as acceptable. In the future, heart surgery, even transplants and many medical advances would come to be almost routine, although many people opposed them as being against nature.
In August she was taken back to hospital to have some of the fluid drained from her body. Auntie Dorrie rang me at school.
"Your mother has been moved to North Shore Hospital. I went with her in the ambulance."
"I'll go and see her tonight before the club meeting. Was she OK?"
"The trip was terrible. She screamed with the pain when the ambulance men moved her, I'll never forget it. But she seemed to be settled in. You know her. She liked the ward and the nurses."
She also liked the flowers I took her that night and was pleased to be in the bed nearest the door, with a view through a window opposite, so as to see everything that went on. Ever the optimist.
Auntie Dorrie rang at 4.45 the next morning to say that mum was worse. I caught the first train and arrived at the hospital in the early dawn. I found her ward quickly... and the empty space in the long ward where her bed had been. The matron came in and took me to another room.
The struggle had ended. 14th August 1953.
1 Premier St
You will accept my deepest sympathy in the loss of your mother. I have been away and only came home on Monday but I saw your Mum a few days before I went away and of course knew she was very sick, but she was so cheerful and I expected to see her again.
I will be glad to see you any time you call and if at any time I can do anything for you or Bill would be glad to do so. Glad to hear that you like work very much and hoping to see you soon. Remember me to your uncle and aunt and give them my deepest sympathy.
With love from Grandma Kinny
My dear Dorothy,
I received your sad news today. At such a time as this words are so feeble to express the feeling evoked but they are all we have to express it with.
In spite of the unfailing cheerfulness and faith with which she met the many misfortunes piled upon her, a cheerfulness and faith that arouse my sympathy and admiration although I could not accept her beliefs, I feel that she had many hours of loneliness and despair and towards the end her distress and suffering must have tried her sorely.
I feel that her passing is a happy release. A heavy loss to us which will become more apparent as time goes on, but a loss which should inspire us rather than retard our efforts. There are so many fields in which our efforts are needed and our strength is so inadequate.
My sister, your mother has gone out of our ken but I believe we are not out of hers and her understanding love, now cleared of earthly misconceptions will guide and inspire us.
I want you to know that I am always ready to stand by you as your mother would have done in happier circumstances.
Your loving Uncle Viv.
Please pass on to Billy my sincere sympathy.