Loris’s journey with cancer finally comes to an end.
We’d been waiting for a call from the hospital. It came, at around 2am, with, “You’d better get here ASAP,”. My three sisters and I gathered together to be with Mum during her last moments.When we arrived at the ward I started the CD I’d brought with me. It was Handel’s Messiah, one of her favourite pieces. Despite the appearance of being totally unconscious, she let out a small sigh. It was a sigh that let us know that she was aware that we we all there with her – and that she knew this would be the music that would accompany her on the final leg of her journey.
Mum’s favourite bits of The Messiah were those that featured brass instruments: the Hallelujah Chorus, the Trumpet Shall Sound, the final Amen. She loved brass instruments – a legacy from her father who’d played a bass tuba in a brass band during World War I. Playing for official functions had no doubt saved him from being part of the worst of the fighting his unit suffered in those horrendous trenches of the Western Front, and had probably kept him alive. Dad, too, had played trombone in an army band in World War II. Since his passing 30 years earlier, Mum had been living without his company in the house they’d retired to. A child of the Great Depression, and stoic to the last, Loris had remained at home since her ovarian cancer diagnosis two years earlier, right up until a week before.
During those two years I sang in the Messiah several times – I’m a keen choral and ensemble singer, and I suppose I’ve inherited the love of this genre from Mum and Dad. At the Trumpet Shall Sound I knew, sadly, that this would be the piece to play during Mum’s funeral; a rousing send-off and at the same time a symbol of her hope of reunion with her dearly departed husband, Ron. And at the funeral, so it came to be.
As Mum lay surrounded and embraced by her four children, I sang along with the chorus For Unto Us… I remember being transfixed watching the pulse in her neck which was becoming more and more hesitant. At the final words of the chorus “…the ‘Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”, her pulse finally stopped. She had found her own peace, and breathed her last.
As we remained quietly with her, I became aware that there was much more involved with her passing, beyond the heart ceasing to beat. At one point during her illness Mum said to my oldest sister Jill, “I feel like I’m on a hill, and I can see all those that came before, and those that will come after. Then, during the whole process of Mum’s death – and for a little while after, Jill observed a passing of ancestors’ features across her face, as if it were a progression of masks.
It was a ‘beautiful’ death: even so, quite confronting. It is such a thing to witness. But it was also such a privilege.
After our night vigil we left the hospital, and repaired to a local cafe for a coffee (image above). Sad, and tired we felt something profoundly beyond tiredness and sadness too.
The following year I was at a graduation. I’d had a long (35 years) and chequered ‘career’ with tertiary education, and this marked a completion at last. I was sad Mum couldn’t be there. I knew she would’ve been proud. But as I marched through the door in the entry procession there was a blast of the fanfare from the gallery high above me. A brass quartet! I’d had no idea that was going to happen. There she was. Loris had made it to be part of the ceremony after all!
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