real life

"I lost my mum to the bottle."

Amelia Oberhardt

 

By AMELIA OBERHARDT

I lost my mum nearly a year ago to the day but in actual fact, I lost her nearly ten years ago to the bottle.

She was a ‘social drinker’ for the best part of my childhood. Rarely does a memory occur that doesn’t include her sitting with a chardy in one hand, a cocktail onion on cracker in the other (that’s a reasonable meal for a five-year-old, isn’t it?).

It wasn’t until I was in my early teens that I started to realize the extent of her drinking. She worked at a newspaper and slowly moved on from her old crowd of loyal drinking companions. She discovered a whole new world of like-minded drinking buddies at work. Unlike her, their children were grown and all that was left was endless days of long, liquid lunches. Don’t get me wrong, they worked in the morning but from midday they were at the pub looking for a scoop or reviewing the lovely cocktail list for the next day’s edition.

In those days in the world of journalism, you were never short of a drinking buddy and they didn’t look anything like Don Draper in Mad Men. Most of them as I remember were red-faced men, usually overweight, drinking until dawn and falling asleep in their breakfast.

It’s the most accepted form of drug abuse there is.

Most of them are now dead. Alcohol is the most accepted form of drug abuse there is. What’s an Aussie barbeque without a pallet of golds? What’s round of golf without a round of draught? Who goes skiing sober?

I don’t think my mum ever really stood a chance to get sober, even if she’d wanted to. Everyone wanted to be with her while she was drinking and having fun but nobody wanted to know her the next day. Keeping up appearances was her saving grace. She was fabulous. She knew everyone, was hated by few and loved by many. If you had a cracking story she could top it tenfold. ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story’, was her motto. She was fun, vibrant and very adept at hiding her illness, so well that even her doctors were fooled.

Telling someone they have six months to live usually brings out the will and determination to fight and to live. In others it brings out despair and depression. My mum fought to drink up until her very last moment. Even while in hospital she’d fill water bottles with vodka, just as she did at home. I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw her sober because if she wasn’t drinking she was in hospital on whatever drugs were strong enough to numb the pain and fill the void that alcohol had left in her. She never believed in her illness, she thought she had a lung infection or poor bone density due to bad genes. She could tell you a red pen was blue and you would truly start to believe her or maybe you just really wanted to believe her.

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There are very few moments when I saw her in true pain as the disease took her life. She was in and out of hospital and it took five years for alcoholism to finally take her.

It was two days before Christmas when my aunty called to tell me mum had fallen. When I arrived at the hospital on Christmas Day she was black and blue but still propped up with a book in hand. She had on her eye shadow and lippy. Her nails were painted. We chatted. I told her I was going home but would be back in the morning. I told her that I loved her. The nurses confirmed she’d be discharged in the morning. It was the last time I would ever see her alive.

Sometime in the night her brain bled out.

When I woke at 4am the next morning there were twenty-six missed calls on my phone. I knew in my heart she was gone. She was in a coma and it was just a matter of time. It’s funny,  the minds reaction to grief, Instead of speeding straight to the hospital to try and somehow bring my mother back from the dead I insisted on stopping at the shop for a frozen coke and a packet of ciggies. I smoked and shook and kept asking my boyfriend, “Am I really awake? Is this a dream, a joke, a nightmare?”

She hung on for six days. A couple of nights before she died the night the nurse came and said, ‘This is it”. Her breathing was labored. I sat on the side of the bed and whispered, “I’m sorry, I love you, please come back and see me, be a yellow lady beetle, Mum? A yellow lady beetle.” For three more days she hung on, I was angry, frustrated and just plain sad. On the fifth morning, a particularly bad morning, I looked down and there sitting on my left shoulder was the tiniest of little yellow lady beetles.

I don’t know how you are meant to act when you lose someone so close to you but also so far from you. Our relationship was tumultuous until her final breath. I felt a lot of guilt for my litte brother, for my dad and for my stepdad and for myself because all these people who were much closer to her than me deserved to be in a lot more pain. I never asked to sit alone with her during her final six days, I never put my foot down about her will or about her funeral or ashes. I just sat and thought, “Well, it’s not my place.” Maybe it was my place after all. She had one daughter and that was me. I had one mother and that had been her. For whatever it’s worth, at some point we had each other.

She passed away on New Year’s Eve. I’m sure this was tactical. There was no way she was going to let us have a party that didn’t involve her. So from now on until eternity, every New Year’s I will toast my mum and wish things might have been, just a little a bit different.

Amelia Oberhardt is a Brisbane born and bred traffic reporter who after 5 years in Brisbane radio made the move to the ‘big smoke’ two and a bit years ago. Other than reporting the daily grind of Sydney traffic she is an avid reader of books, blogs and Facebook and her favourite pastime is creative writing. You can follow her blog here.

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