Everybody remembers the last conversation they had with a loved one before that person died. It doesn’t matter if the conversation was in person or via the phone. It was the words, spoken, or unspoken, that stay with you.
Princes William and Harry were holidaying in Scotland with their father when they last spoke to their mother. Diana was in Paris but as always she found time to speak to the two boys who were her life. On the 30th of August, she phoned her sons. William and Harry both remember this last conversation as being too brief because they were eager to be doing other stuff. They were 12 and 15 years old, behaving as young boys do. They were not to know that in a few hours time, the mother that they loved so much would be dead, having literally been hounded to death by the paparazzi. That last phone call haunts them and I understand it because I’m haunted by my last phone call with my own mother.
Death is tricky. Sometimes you get prior notice that he’s coming for a loved one. If death is inevitable, then surely this is the best scenario because nothing is left unsaid. The living can carry on in the comfort that they got to say goodbye and the dying can let go knowing that there was nothing left to say. That’s the kind of death I want. To leave on my terms. However, Death so often takes our loved ones without warning and there is no opportunity to tell them one last time how much you love them. They are simply, gone.
Death gave no warning about my mother. Not to us, anyway.
The last time I spoke to Mum was the night before she died. I’d been in hospital having an exploratory procedure done under general anesthetic and I’d not been home long before she phoned to see how I was. I was still woozy from the anesthetic and I just wanted to sleep, so I fobbed her off and told her I’d speak to her the following morning when I felt better. That was the last time I ever spoke to her. How could I know that her kidneys and ultimately her heart would fail on her before I woke up the next morning?
Mum hadn’t been ill, except for a “bit of a tummy bug” which she’d mentioned in passing that week. The ‘bug’ turned out to be Bronchial Pneumonia. If she was suffering, nobody knew, because she didn’t say anything. That was the kind of person she was. She didn’t ‘do’ illness. Illness was an inconvenience which interfered with her hair appointments. She couldn’t be done with it and in the end, her stubbornness was her undoing.
What happens in these circumstances is that you replay that conversation over and over in your mind. You don’t remember the other conversations you’ve had with that person. You just remember those last words. You rewrite the script or at least you try to because you feel cheated or guilty or both. You feel like you are the worst person in the world because of that last conversation and you’d give anything to be able to go back in time and do it differently. To this day, I don’t remember if I told her I loved her. Normally, I would have, as I had ended every other phone call, but I was semi-sedated. I most probably did because I ended every conversation the same way. The problem is that it was often like reciting the Lords Prayer, as in, something that you say without actually thinking about it. You know?
My mother was no longer at the end of the phone but that didn’t stop me dialing her number. I needed to hear her voice and I knew where I could find her, for a little while longer, at least..
Hi, this is Jan, I’m not here at the moment but leave a message and I’ll get back to you.
I lost count of how many times I rang number to listen to this message. Even though I knew that the phone was ringing out into a house which was no longer a home, it didn’t matter because it was still her voice and it comforted me.
Given the chance, our last conversation would have been very different. Then again, there is a belief that things happen for a reason. What if I was to go back and hear something in my mother’s voice which alerted me to the fact that something was wrong? What then if I was to intervene only for the outcome to be that for the rest of her life she was frail and dependent on others? If you knew my mother you’d understand how much she’d have hated that. I do think that as hard as it is to lose someone, if we look hard enough, we will see a blessing in some form or other. Sometimes we just need to look at things from their perspective instead of our own.
It’s unrealistic to treat every conversation as if it’s the last you will ever have. Life gets in the way and with the best will in the world there are always going to be occasions where we have to cut conversations short. However, no matter how brief a conversation may be, there is always time enough to say the only thing that really matters.
“The news of life is carried via telephone. A baby’s birth, a couple engaged, a tragic car accident on a late night highway – most milestones of the human journey, good or bad, are foreshadowed by the sound of a ringing.” Mitch Albom ~ The First Phone Call From Heaven