Walking into Beaumont Hospital was always the same; a strange inverted Willie Wonka sensorial experience with thick layers of aromas to escort you to your destination. It starts at the walk from the carpark along the twisting pathway where patients and visitors congregate around cigarettes and lighters. Relieving themselves of their forced indoor tensions, the outside air thick with purple grey tobacco clouds. Once inside the revolving doors you’re greeted with the reassuringly caustic smell of alcoholic hand santiser and scenes of visitors hand-wringing, trying to work out where they go from the seemingly-endless ward options. Onwards through to the next luscious layer of olfactory occurrences, which inevitably ooze from the ground floor canteen. Unavoidable, unfortunately, as you bustle by the clattering haze of yesterday’s lunch (now reformed as today’s soup), burnt coffee and gravy; a smell that pervades most nooks and crannies of the hospital on a daily basis between the hours of breakfast and dinner. Persevere! Hurry by the canteen and you can find some respite on the stairs. Here you might notice that the years of soft-soled shoes on freshly cleaned terrazzo flooring leave a faint rubber hum in the air. These are the Beaumont layers that bring me, finally, to St. Anne’s ward on Level 1.
A brand new corridor separates this space from the rest and the smell of newness reminds me of excitement when my primary school upgrade was completed and crowds of eager 6 year olds were piled into our pristine classrooms complete with new lino and shining white PVC window panes. Through two sets of doors you get to St. Anne’s and sensory experiences shift. There is a silence that falls here and the air is clearer, less invaded by passing traffic and oddly-timed lunches. This ward is preserved for the sensitive requirements of cancer patients and palliative care.
I shift the heavy weight of my canvas carrier bag higher up onto my shoulder and shuffle my handbag, drawing an unconscious breath to fortify myself as I open the door of her room. It is late August and the air has not yet turned cold. The early morning sun has already risen, ambitiously promising to coax some warm rays in through her open window. She is somewhere between awake and asleep, a well-meaning finger rises in place of a greeting with a knowing smile.
“Morning Mum! I’ve got some bits for your room today!” Out from the canvas bag pour the scarves, blankets, cushions, photos in frames and crocheted creations from better times. I lovingly place the photos of us nearby for her, but get no response. A knitted pink blanket made by a fellow-knitting-friend is draped across her legs but still no reaction. Finally a crocheted mermaid with wild reddened hair is out of the bag, her weighted bum perched on the window sill and her shell bra knotted with glittered wool. Mum shrieks an excited cry of recognition. I joke, “Oh nice, your family are all around you in photos and you call out for your mermaid! Nice one Mum!”
The adornments are in place and that’s the excitement out of the way. Now it’s business as usual as I tell busy-time stories about work and home life; all of which are ficticious concoctions. Nothing outside these hospital walls is normal anymore. I read to her while she wakes and to myself while she sleeps and I hold her hand throughout. Doctors and nurses move occasionally around her with charts, coats and respectfully-silent shoes asking questions and saying nothing. Visitors visit leaving gifts, love and wonderful distracting stories from happier houses. The sun comes and goes across the window and very soon another day has passed, mostly in silence. The time comes to say goodbye, until tomorrow’s visit. Some weeks back we had jokingly said the best thing about our hospital chats was the end, just before I went home. The bit where we would hug.
Mum gave these huge, deep, loving hugs. Hugs that came from her core. From the mysterious, ferocious place where a mother stores the love she has for her children. From the same place she holds the never-ending worry that begins before her child is born. And the pride when they succeed. And the fear when they go out into the world on their own. When I hugged Mum I got it all; distilled love. But now I hugged a weakened Mum so I reminded her of our joke, saying “now for the best bit…”. She whispered the only words she had said all day echoing the truest sentiment; “the best bit”.
10 days later on September 8th my Mum slipped away. The sun rose and filled her room with warm, golden light and she decided it was her time. I had no idea 10 days previously when I peeled back out through those soupy Beaumont layers that those words would be our last. “The best bit”. I had no concept that 5 years on they would still ring in my ears as I am filled with the ferocious love of her hugs while aching from their absence.
See, I’ve come to realise that even the worst bits in life come with a sprinkling of the best bits but when they are gone you don’t get a second opportunity to enjoy them or one last chance to try again. The best bits slip by just as fast as the worst bits and there is nothing we can do to stop that. Hold on to the best bits. Cherish them. Savour them. Write them down and remember. Share your stories with the people who matter and get out and give that big mama bear hug from your core.
That’s what it’s all about.
Tamara is the self-proclaimed Unqualified Blogger. She is a freelance Copywriter and Marketing Communications / Brand Strategist and Creative Generalist. She is available for speech writing, tattoo conventions and karaoke parties or would love to work with you on your latest marketing or creative challenges. Stay in touch on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter or Contact her directly.