A walk to the creek with Mum
Pennant Hills Park
Sunday. Almost midday. Bright, warm sunshine. Cath and I closed the front door and walked over the road into the parkland. Into the bush. The narrow path curved around to the top of a sandstone shelf. Big Sydney bluegums towered skywards. A flock of white cockatoos squawked a raucous welcome from high above.
Thursday. 3 days before I had been at the snow with school.
Friday afternoon, 2 days ago I had called Mum who had gone into hospital. “This could be my last hurrah”. We’d driven straight up from Canberra.
The rock shelf gives a good outlook down towards the creek. We stepped down the stone stairs slowly absorbing the scene. On either side of the bush path was a profusion of wildflowers, red, yellow, mauve, blue, white. Grass trees stood like sentinels on the higher slopes.
Saturday morning. She was chirpy. Like her normal self. Chatty. A little uncomfortable but not distressed. There was a steady stream of family. My brothers. Daughters in law. Grandchildren. My own children were flying in from London and Alice Springs later but soon. We talked with Mum and the doctors about how she was going.
I’d walked down here countless times with Mum. We all had. In winter, summer, in the rain when the path was a creek. After the bushfires when it was all black and then soon after we delighted at each sign of new growth as the bush sprang back to life and colours emerged. In the wet when the sundews were sticky and frogs chorused like there was no tomorrow. The bush. This bush! Was Mum’s church. She told us this was where she felt at home, close to life, close to her bigger picture of what it is all about. We stood still and took in the smells of Spring, the sounds, the feel of the breeze.
Saturday night. Last night. I stayed with her. In the middle of the night she was moved into the ICU. The best doctors. The best facilities anywhere. They couldn’t quite figure out what she had. We all had to gown and mask up in an isolation room. Oxygen seemed to ease and relax her breathing. Still chatty and sharp as a tack. I slept a little. Nurses came and went as the night dragged on. Two weeks ago she had been gallivanting around on a holiday with a friend in Cairns, out to the Reef, to the Daintree.
Down at the creek. Water streamed and bubbled between rocks. My brother and I had come down here a month or two before in a storm. The creek had been in flood. I was all for pole vaulting the narrowest point in the rapids but eventually we did a bushwalkers river crossing over the torrent. Mum had enjoyed telling all her friends about her grown up boys taking silly risks in her creek. Over the years she had taken all the grandkids down there to play and explore. And when they were older on longer walks on the fire trails beyond.
Sunday afternoon. She knew. We all knew. The doctors knew. There was no coming back. The family. In turn we chatted with her. Said goodbye. Said what we needed to say. Surrounded her with love. We cried. Held hands. Hugged. She tired. Laughed and joked. Was strong. Clear eyed. Unflinching.
We walked back up the track then branched off on a faint little footpad through the scrub. This took us to the smaller side creek. It was darker in here. Less light. Moist and shaded. We’d been through here with Mum. After rain. The small stream had gurgled. Bushes crowded the banks so Mum led us up through the water, over slippery rocks, to a small grotto. Moss covered rocks. A tiny cascade. Miniature ferns. We worried that she would slip or fall or hurt herself. She wanted us to know it and to lead us through with an adventurist sparkle in her eye. This was a special place. Hidden. Protected.
Monday morning. She had held on fiercely. The last two grandkids had arrived. Lucid. More time to say goodbyes again. She told us the last day or two had been the best of her life. More hugs and laughs and tears.
Up towards the rock shelf on the way home lorikeets started piping to one another, filling the bush with song.
Sunday late afternoon. We all learned how to say “Ta tah” from life with grace and love as we held her hands and she left us. Outside her room as we cried and hugged the sun blazed the most beautiful sunset across the whole sky in the west above her bush.