Last Respect: Agony at my Mother’s Death Bed

Harare – My mother was never persuaded to sleep after the first daylight. One of the rare days she did was the date she died. This untoward hour was the second day of an early December morning of 2008.

Sparsely grey clouds gathered gradually in the hills just across the Manyame River – a winding body of profoundly dirtied masses of water that snakes through Harare’s desolate industrial sites. Later it surged towards Lake Chivero – the city’s domestic water harvest.

Derick Matsengarwodzi
The atypical weather pattern is what we had hoped for. The sun had been baking the crust without any unforeseen reprieve, not offering the crops any chance to mature.

After almost a year of absence I missed everyone dearly, everything especially my mother’s yummy recipes. The day I arrived, she was not home – she had left for a shopping trip to South Africa. Over the phone she was full of verve.

“We just got delayed over the border but I will be home soon. We have just finished all the immigration procedures. Soon we will be on our way, the personnel are efficient.”
My Late Mother, Lizzie Matsengarwodzi 

I responded, “No need to hurry, just take your time. I will be here waiting for you. Hope you have a safe journey home.”

Thus how we concluded our get-together pledge.

The Reunion
On this day I sat alone. The heat of that 1st December 2008 morning never barged into my memories. I regurgitated the battles that I fought in those earlier days. A bevy of women and children cheered in the background – their bodies sagged with buckets of splash water but somehow they all wore rare smiles of reprieve.

My mother arrived later that night. Her mood was lofty as usual although some of her luggage had gone missing. It was her usual way to deflect trouble with an allergic smile. The bus operator had at least confessed the slip-up and promised to compensate her losses.

“Mom you don’t look alright to me, is everything okay?”

Knowing her, she was not nitpick type, even when pain was evident.

We later retired to bed – but soon my fears were converted into reality. Our reunion was too short and would leave traces of perpetual painful memories. Suddenly my anxiety was being confirmed. Soon I followed her and knocked on her door.

“Are you okay mom. Can I come in?”
My Late Mother in her Humble Kitchen 

Her reply was remote and faded before it reached my ears. I decided to open the door. I was struck by what confronted me. There, in front of me eyes she lay wriggling, coiled in pain on her bathroom floor. What had transpired to her alone in the room? Nobody could confirm my fears. Moments earlier we were exchanging compliments cheeringly.

I called out to my brother for help. Together we helped her onto the bed. Now she lay immobile. One thing was evident; she was losing her strength very fast from excessive loss of body fluids. She had nothing much to say.

“I am okay my son. I am just feeling a bit exhausted from the long journey.”

As usual she sought to relegate any form of panic even though her tone was visibly frail. She was a fighter but this alignment, whatever it was, was draining her energy reserves very rapidly.

The emergency ambulances were obviously a distant preference. Their reaction had been overwhelmed by severe administrative malfunctions. My brother phoned a cousin for transport. The clock was now winding towards the first light. While waiting for assistance, we assembled all her personal needs.

Search for Life
Meanwhile, our patience was getting lean. Then my cousin arrived in a hasty. We were losing time – competing against life. We assisted her into the car and he drove in haste towards the hospital. She groaned in perpetual pain – she sought to say something but she was too feeble.

At the outpatients desk we were greeted by the clerk’s resonating snoring. At least on this visit there was someone to assist us. He was quick to dismiss any enquiries when we related our dilemma.
My Mother was a Devoted Catholic 

“You have come to the wrong place,” he paused rubbing his eyes, “you have to go to the health centre created to cater for the outbreak,” he said discharging us with a big yawn as he prepared to dose off again.

The makeshift referral health hub’s corridor was complete chaos. It was no less than we predicted. Petulant expressions from staff bestowed us a nerve-jangling welcome. The stare on the patients’ faces informed us of what to anticipate – it was just calamity and neglect – nothing more.

At the entrance we wiped our feet in a disinfectant then rinsed our hands. The procedure was to be repeated each time you vacated the enclosure. But more tragedy unfolded. Drained relatives carted ailing loved ones home in improvised carts to face death. They could not afford to hire a car but demonstrated unparalleled love.

The way the nurses bellowed made an obscene to their noble vocation, becoming a nuisance to the sick. One had to coerce them to perform. Getting them annoyed was the least thing we wanted to do especially with my mother’s delicate, deteriorating state. Besides their sour attitude, they were still our solitary hope for now. It was through them or death.

I soon approached a senior employee. Her examination was nippy but basic. First, she checked her body temperature, her throat while she wrote on the card.

“She has lost a lot of liquids but she will recover soon. Just give her a lot of water to drink. She will get better.”

Part 2 coming soon...

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