It hadn’t been the usual Mother’s Day. I wasn’t hung over and I’d gone to great lengths to organise a surprise that I thought would be good enough for my mum. Plans had begun the day before with cupcake baking followed by standard bowl licking, and an email sent to her with a list of instructions.
On Sunday morning, I’d donned an apron and flour was flying. Date scones were in the oven, the passionfruit cupcakes were frosted with white chocolate buttercream and the club sandwiches were being layered. And then the phone rang…
I cursed under my breath as I was running behind schedule and when I answered, it was my aunt calling from an ambulance with my dad as the passenger. “Don’t worry” and “Everything will be fine” were the catch phrases, as Dad was on his first hospital trip just to sort out all of his cancer meds.
Panic peppered through my chest and the cortisol danced through my veins. I explained that I was making Mum a surprise high tea lunch to which came a “Don’t rush”. I cut the club sandwiches and the triangles were misshapen; a taunting range from big and squashed to falling apart isosceles. My flatmate helped me chuck everything in a basket and I left for Mum’s. She thought that she was being held hostage as I’d instructed her via text to leave the front door open, sit in her room with the curtains and door closed and to follow the email instructions which were primarily to watch a series of crazy cat videos.
Once the cream was whipped and the table set, I sent her a text to be released. The surprise was met with great smiles, but she saw the cracks through the mask.
“Nothing… just open your present first.”
The façade faded before she had taken her first bite of the awkward looking sandwich. We ate in silence trying to recover some kind of cheer, and then I packed my aunt a lunchbox and left for A&E.
Last weekend Dad had turned, like the autumn leaves in the trees around him his home. Now he was propped up in a hospital bed, agitated and undone. He told me that I was “Busy”. To which I replied “Don’t worry, it’s Sunday”. With all the time in the world, I sat next to him; drinking water from a polystyrene cup and sharing jam and whipped cream scones with aunty. He gripped his hands firmly around the bedside frames and tried to pull away the line into his arm.
“It’s ok, we are just here to sort out your medication and get you rehydrated, then you can come back home”, my aunty said in a voice so warm and reassuring, like a child’s comforting blankie.
Severely dehydrated and with a suspected infection, we left him that evening tucked up in a ward bed in the company of a bearded amputee, a knee surgery man and an elderly gentlemen that was determined to remain independent. He had a hot meal in front of him that he was making an effort to eat as we said goodbye, but I wasn’t sure if he was really aware that we were going. I dropped my aunty back to her place and salivated at the prospect of having a fresh fish burger for dinner from my local fish n chip shop. I ordered it and took it home.
Parked in the garage, I opened the door and got out with my dinner in hand. The burger box took air with the movement and slid off the top of the newspaper wrapped chips and landed split in two parts on the cold floor. I looked down at it, shook my head and sighed loudly, before reassembling it back in its box. I was determined not to cry and thought that this was not going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I refused to give this burger that I had craved so much, any smug satisfaction. Then I took my garage seasoned burger inside and ate the damn thing.
Dad never did come back home. The suspected infection was actually his liver shutting down. His life was rapidly drawing its curtains to a close with just one small bite left. He was here, but not really, for two more days. Sitting by his bedside, my cousin and I waited for Mum to bring his sister and my brother through the foggy night, from the airport. Twenty minutes after they held Dad’s hands, he went quiet and drew his last breath.
My burger dropped… and I left it there.