Layla's space

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams it is still a beautiful world.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What do you want me to do with your mum's brain?

That must be the most bizarre question I’ve ever been asked.

My mother, who was 58, died suddenly this week. The post mortem showed that it was probably a sudden cardiac death related to heart disease we didn’t know she had. As I come from a small town, and am ‘medical’, I know most of the people who work at the local hospital, including the pathologist who performed the post-mortem examination of my poor mother’s body, and who asked me the above question. She had a chronic neurological condition, and he wanted to know if I wanted to donate her brain to medical science, or at least send samples of it off for specialist analysis. Being ‘medical’, I thought about it. Being a daughter, I said no.

I actually went to see the pathologist to discuss the results of the post-mortem. I never would have thought that I would be able to wall off my feelings in the face of something so awful, but it just happened. I sat there in his office, next to a sheet of histological slides taken from my own mother’s heart and lungs, and talked as if it was one of my patients who had died. I enquired as to whether my mother’s kidneys had any evidence of scarring from the frequent urinary tract infections she suffered from. I nodded impassively when he hesitantly told me that her liver was a bit fatty (she liked her wine). I listened attentively while he told me that her skull was intact, that there were no external injuries apart from a cut on her little toe, which I blandly confirmed had occurred some days before her death.

I feel like a robot. It feels like something is stuck inside me.

I went to her flat with my dad (she was divorced from my father but they were still friends). I looked at her notepads, her doodles, her work notes. I looked in her diary – ‘lunch with X’, ‘cleaner away’, ‘book taxi’. I moved around the space where she had lived, the room where she had died, and I tidied. I cleaned.

Then I found my mother’s laundry bag. I took out two t-shirts which she must have worn recently. I held them to my face and I smelt my mother’s perfume, I smelt her. And dear God I cried. I rocked. I held my mother’s clothes to my chest and some of what was stuck inside me came out, but not all of it. I clammed up again soon afterwards and got on with tidying the flat.

I’m hoping that nothing comes unstuck until after the funeral. I can’t go to pieces in front of a load of people, even if that’s what’s expected. I need to stand up in front of everyone and tell them that I loved her, that she was a wonderful, beautiful person, that she was my mother and nobody else’s and that she did a damn good job of bringing me up.

I hope to God the dam doesn’t burst before I’ve done that for her.