Mother’s Day – or Mothers’ Day or Mothers Day

This announcement was born as a boast but I make it today as a confession: I DON’T BELIEVE IN MOTHER’S DAY.* I don’t honour it, I don’t observe it (unless with quizzical disdain), I don’t respect it, (excepting as a smart marketing exercise. What began as a means of selling greetings cards in the off-season found eager recruits in floristry and in restaurantry – as well as in cafetery and lingerie. Mother/s Day has all the hallmarks of Hallmark and the hallmarks of the pulsing of empty cultures in new countries and guilty sons in the pub, at the footy, at work, at play – at living outside extended family.)

Climbing down from my lofty position of cultural oversight into the kitchen of my own life, I can identify a serious gap: my mother and I have not spoken to each other for almost five years.

I have dreamed of her. I have dreamed she dreams of me. Mum died in June 2009 and I miss her. I do not mourn for Mum: I grieve for my loss, for the delight of her company. Mum always made me smile. Always. In her breathless dying week I watched as Mum suffered one particularly horrifying attack: she gasped at air. It went on and on, as her lungs filled higher and higher with the fluid that would drown her at week’s end. I called a nurse, Nurse squirted a diuretic into Mum, the breathing slowed and Mum pulled off her oxygen mask, grinning: “You thought I was going to croak, didn’t you, darling? Well” – Mum was cackling now in the hilarity of the merry joke that was all her existence – “I didn’t, did I?”

In my kitchen of now, I fry tomatoes and eggs and red kidney beans with onions fried in oil with garlic and smoked paprika and cumin. I serve this and avocado bathed in fresh lime juice and garlic-infused olive oil on a mountain of fresh bagels and specialty breads. All is prefaced by a glass of orange juice squeezed by my grandchildren. We serve this to the children’s grandmother and great-grandmother. Everyone gives gifts, festoons and cards (handmade, unHallmarked) to the old ladies. And I watch, a non-combatant. I look at my mother in law, fulfilled, filled with years. I come in, in from my chill principles, and I celebrate with them all.

*I’ve always felt the same away about Fathers Day and Valentines Day too.


Notice of the Death of a Son

A thin, linear lady, stringy, bounces in to my consulting room, sits down, beams at me from her lean oblong face. And waits. She has the grin of a six-year old.

We haven’t met before. Welcome. My name’s Howard.

A bony hand on a long arm grips mine vigorously and softly. The grin widens, shifting dentures. Hello Howard. I’m Lucy.

In general Lucy looks her age, which is seventy two years; but her skin looks a lot older. She might be a chicken, so scaly and irregular are her surfaces. The thicket of hair atop her bony head is fair. The skin is fair too, excepting for the plaques of pink, great blotches of healing. She is an old gum tree, her bark new, old, peeling, revealing, irresistibly alive.


She looks me over genially, taking my measure. She decides I will do and embarks on a story.

I had a son. He died last year. Lucy looks up, waits a bit, resumes: Your children are supposed to bury you, not the other way around.

Lucy bears her loss lightly. She hasn’t come here to shed grief. She looks at me, unbowed, light in her being.

I look back hard. There must be a wound.

How did your son die?

A heart attack, massive. He was forty-four.

Lucy has taken my measure. I am old enough. I will know the verities, the facts of death.

You know the smell of death.

A statement, not a question.

How does death smell, Lucy?

Indescribable. And unmistakeable. As you’d know.

I smelt death first the night Dad died. I was staying with him and I smelt that smell. When I found Dad he’d been dead a couple of hours. He was cooling. The smell started around the time he died…

I started smelling death again a year ago. I smelled it four nights in a row. My bed smelled of it, my pyjamas too. It was really strong. I wouldn’t let myself fall asleep: I thought I was the one dying. I was at my daughter’s place and I didn’t want her to have to find me.

After the fourth night they rang to tell me my son had passed. He died four nights before.

That smell starts ten minutes after they die. And it stops once you know.

Lucy looks at me, grins a smile of reality, of truth. Ultimate truth, the factuality of death.

I’ve lost both my boys; the first one died at birth.

But I’ve got my girls. They’re both good. And seven grandchildren and – a huge bright smile, a lightning strike in the summer of Lucy’s face – a little great granddaughter!

A pause. Lucy is a good pauser, unfrightened of the silences that flow, clear as her sentences. And in the pauses, Lucy smiles her knowings that I must share: the freshness of new life. How the fact of a baby redeems all.

You know I bounce back. Just about exactly a year come round since my boy passed, I lost a dear friend. Like sisters we were. That was tough… for a while.

This is a pause unlit by smiling. Lucy looks at me steadily.

But I bounce back.