As I scheduled my previous post I was reminded that today is the twenty sixth of October, the anniversary of the day my Dad was born. Soon it will be eighteen years since he died, which seems a crazy amount of time. I wonder what he would have thought of his grandchildren now. I was talking to one of my daughter’s last night. Last weekend she went to visit our friend who is terminally ill of colon cancer for the first time since she was diagnosed. I knew seeing L would be a shock to my daughter no matter what I said, but I tried to prepare her for how L would look.
I am incredibly proud of my daughter not only because she felt she needed to visit L and support the family but also obviously knew what she was doing. She didn’t avoid talking about death and the care arrangements required but she also deliberately talked about her life and the issues going on in it. When L went to sleep, my daughter stayed to talk to the rest of the family for a few hours which I think shows her awareness of the impact L’s death is having on all the immediate family particularly the husband who is amazing. I also thought it was a lovely touch that my daughter found a French patisserie and took eclairs to our friends.
I was struck by how simple images can capture a scene. My daughter described the reality of L frailness when she saw L’s husband lift L up so she could go to another room. The image of the husband bending down, L putting her arms around his neck and him lifting her feels very powerful to me even though I wasn’t there to see it. I guess it is a bit like a dance between two lovers but more poignant because of the dependence between the two and the hovering of death nearby.
I guessed very early on that L would probably die, but the experience of her fading slowly away is hard to bear. My daughter commented that when she said down on the train back to Glasgow it dawned on her that she may never see L again. She was sad but it felt okay she said. This brought tears to my eyes, so much wisdom in one so young. I know how she feels, I don’t know when next I will see L but I do expect to do it before she dies but I wonder how much conscious time there will be.
When my wife went to see L at the weekend they chatted for a while before L started to doze off, my wife wondered whether she should leave but L said she like hearing my wife talk to the rest of the family. My wife asked me how I felt when I had visitors and I was in hospital too tired to talk. I think the important thing is not to make any demands on the patient, to be there to talk if they are up to it, but to be content to sit and accompany the patient quietly if they can’t talk. Being present can be a comfort in itself, but only if the patient likes you at that moment. It reminds me of my mum asking me to stop crying because it upset her; I did but it really wasn’t helpful to me at the time.
Whilst experiencing somebody die is hardly a pleasant scenario, I feel it is a privilege to witness. When the time comes I will be upset when L dies but I will also know that she will have appreciated what she meant to me. I never got to say anything to my father because he died so suddenly and I think that leaves a hole of saddness that cannot be filled. Every death I experience reminds me of the previous deaths I have encountered in my life but I guess that is a good thing. Being reminded of death I would hope, gives me a push to live my life a bit more fully.