My mother of a thousand faces

30/05/2008 by Christopher Buxton

My mother, Monica Stewart, is a an actress. In her latest role – a one hander co written by God and Samuel Beckett (posthumously) – she is playing herself: dying.

It is as ever an overwhelming performance and we who sit in the wings strive to understand its complexity.

My mother who was never comfortable being herself now looks like a famine victim. Her eyes are permanently shut. Her arms are now her chief tools of expression, reaching out, grasping, pushing away. As if her deaf ears can now hear her family’s voices, she moves spasmodically – especially to poetry and song. Sometimes it seems she is feeling sharp pangs of pleasure or pain and her lips move as if trying to tell us something. But all that emerges is the occasional cry that baffles the audience and keeps them on the edge of their plastic seats over the two hours of visiting time.

Mum, we want to know what is happening in that dark hallway you now inhabit. It is what every human wants to know. And it is why we take these hours as a performance – guessing, wishing, hoping.
Dad has brought your pictures to the ward, and the nurses whisper in temporary respect. Look, Monica was an actress. What remarkable photos!
Dad is the Director, now powerless to control the action. This quiet woman holds the centre of the stage.