Nine years ago as my mother lay dying in an upstairs room at Adelaide's Memorial Hospital, with a formal rose garden under her window and the scent of it coming in through the curtains on a warm wind, a fey Irish nurse leaned over her and gazed into her unconscious face. 'What are you waiting for?' she murmured to my mother.
It was my father's 72nd birthday, and my mother was probably waiting for midnight, so he wouldn't have to live whatever was left of his life remembering her death on his birthday. He hasn't, either; she died early the next morning, just before dawn.
At 81 my dad is still going strong, after having said over the cake and candles on his 80th last year 'Right: now I'm striking out for 85.' Last night the family was out for a birthday dinner, and we went back to his place for coffee and the cake I'd baked, and a very nice chocolate affair with silver cachous and candles it was too, inspired by the birthday cake that Suse from Pea Soup baked recently for one of her boys.
So every year it's celebratory cake and champagne with my dad on the evening of his birthday, and then waking up the next morning to the anniversary of my mother's death. I'm still not used to it.
Elsewhere has a great post here about the 'death-day', and the weirdnesses of mourning and grief. I've spent the day feeling mutedly sad and a bit ill, distracting myself by having a nap and reading Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men instead of getting on with the work novels, doing the housework, and/or preparing for the writing workshop I have to teach on Monday afternoon.
Given the death-saturated subject matter of the McCarthy novel (my friend D, who will never see the movie because she hates violence on the screen -- over the years we've seen several movies together that have made her clap her hands over her eyes and hiss 'Tell me what's happening!' -- delivered a spirited disquisition this morning over our usual Saturday coffee on the excellent press the movie is getting, and the weirdness of the fascination in popular culture with psychopathic killers and the proof it provides that America 'is a death culture'), it was inevitable that the novel would resonate repeatedly with my own personal Day of the Dead.
And in a book full of eminently quotable moments, this one from the musing, apprehensive Sheriff Bell was particularly resonant, given what day it is:
... the dead have more claims on you than what you might want to admit or even what you might know about and them claims can be very strong indeed. Very strong indeed.
He's right. I should have done the housework. As an offering.