The very first time I have ever truly learned the sound of my heartbeat was when I was grieving for Rosalie.I can’t remember how long it was after her passing, but that night lying in bed in the dark, I felt the intense longing of loss.
She was dead – forever.
I did not know how to reach out to her, to feel her again… to feel her embodied presence in my life. I pressed my head closer to the pillow, tears streaming gently, my body curled like a baby under the doona. In this fragile position, I heard the echoes of my heartbeat inside my own eardrums. It was this sudden, simple revelation that carried me inside the cradle of knowing. It was as if, Rosalie was there watching over me, showing me, through the sound of my own heartbeat, the intensity of my precious life. Through my heartbeat, she spoke to me.
When your soul is tired,
give it a big hug
put your hands close to your chest
and listen . . .
da thump . . .
That is your Heart . . .
It constantly beats, never stop to think that it needs some rest or refuge . . .
It beats for You, my dear
to give you Life
You are Alive.
– April 29th, 2013
Fast-forward two years later, it was this same experience of hearing the drumbeat of my heart that saved me from losing hope facing a life with lupus. How is it that I was sick, so sick; breathless, exhausted, ridden with full-body pain but my heart is still beating unconsciously? I wondered to myself. I had no energy left to do much of anything, but the hope grew. It has been growing steadily from that day onwards. I mean, if at such a poor state, my own heart did not even try to slow down or give up pumping blood all over my body… then we; my body and I, we still have a chance to live.
I only knew Rosalie for a brief stint of time. I was working at my first job straight out of university, as a diversional therapist at an aged care facility. We designed lifestyle activities for our elderly residents in order to induce meaning into their lives in their now “home away from home”.
I did not realize how old Rosalie was until recently, when I found her funeral card, as I was rummaging through a box of treasure underneath my bed. We were 70 years apart. She was already very frail; skin and bones. But she never quite lost her fire until the end. Every now and then, you can hear her yell her tiny lungs out in that hardcore, strong-headed Eastern European passion whenever a staff member invaded her personal space and boundaries. Oh, she was so clear on her boundaries even in her nineties. She spent most of her days sleeping or lying down in bed even though she was still quite mobile. She loved her independence, even with increasing limitations. She would hand-washed, wrung and hung dry her beloved silk-robe all by herself even when this activity would knock her out for the rest of the day.
She knew she was dying for months as she noticed her growing weakness. She voiced her knowing freely in front of me; I am dying, darling, she would say to me.
I visited her once a week in her room, which she always kept tidy and clean. I love her room, it has a window looking out to the garden with plenty of sunlights streaming in. Sometimes, if she was lying down in bed during my visit, I would kneel beside her bed and sat with her in silence. She would take my hand and kiss it, “I love you, darling. I love you, darling.” She would whisper gently in her croaky voice.
She loved talking about her babies. She has three mini photo frames filled with a collage of all nine of her adult children. She would tell each one of them how much she loves them as if they were there in person. I felt her ache too, a mother’s longing of being separated from her own children. But we both know, it is the fate of a mother. Every parent would experience this many time in their life. The heart-breaking separation from your own flesh and blood. It is a cycle of life, though. As natural and earthly as it can be. Rosalie and I acknowledged this feeling together in the quiet presence. I was witnessing the grace and mercy of a dying mother saying goodbye to all of her children in the only way she knew how, in the only way she can. A heart-pathy.
Rosalie would also fill her days by drawing on paper towels. A collection of art-housey stick figures. She especially loved to draw boobs and put blush on their cheeks. Perhaps, representing a nostalgic remnant of her stylish, youthful days. We tried to get her to draw on a nicely bounded sketchbook, but she always refused. I managed to save one of her Masterpieces (link to photographs).
Rosalie was like a grandmother I never had. My fondest memory of her was when she fed me a slice of mango that she cut up herself using a fruit knife. She once told me, repeatedly, like a mantra; “you are very gentle, darling, you are very gentle.”
She saw me way before I even knew myself.
Witnessing her dying was one of the hardest moments in my life that I still have not fully acknowledged. She died very slowly, over the course of a few weeks. Long after she lost consciousness, her soft frail body was still hanging on to dear life. Hanging on she was. There was something, or someone, she was still waiting for in this life. A chance to say goodbye, a chance to say I am sorry, a chance to say I love you.
In 2018, I went to South Africa to fulfil one of my wildest dreams and experience a real-life safari adventure. One day, before we set out for the safari drive, we were asked to remember and pray for someone we have lost. I had brought our photo together on the trip and I wanted her to show me she was near.
This is a painting of the bird that I saw during the drive wearing the same beloved silk robe of Rosalie (link to photographs).
Written 6th March 2019.
All rights reserved 2019 © Corry Angwar