Sweetly Sleeping

Lying quietly in her bed, the morphine pump doing its work to keep her free of pain, Aunt sleeps peacefully.


The pain, we think, is due to the fact that she fell out of bed sometime in the night and was discovered by Linda first thing this morning, lying on the floor, her head under the bed. The ambulance arrived in four minutes. It would have been three but the paramedics couldn’t get through the front door.


When Linda told me this just as I was about to leave home for the coach, I was whispering “oh no, oh no, oh no”, sure that Linda was about to tell me Aunt had been taken to hospital. But no. The wonderful paramedics checked her carefully and got her comfortable in bed once more. But she must have bruised herself, because she was wincing and grimacing in pain. Something the cancer has never caused her to do. So this afternoon, the community team arrived and set her up with a morphine pump that is keeping a steady flow of pain relief flowing into her.

My first thought when I saw her was that she looked like Mother when she was dying; the same small frail frame, the hand creeping up to her cheek, the quiet but effortful breathing. Linda and Rita were keeping a vigil across her bed. Aunt opened her eyes, but I do not think she registered I was there. I do not think on a conscious level she knows I am sitting beside her now. But I have been talking to her, telling her to do whatever she has to do, that we are all wishing her well, and that even those of us without faith are praying that this sleep continues to be peaceful until the last breath, so maybe deep down she knows I have come and is comforted and pleased. I hope so.


You can’t help but admire her. The hospice nurse who ‘phoned earlier described her as indomitable. I think that she will be talked about in the local medical circles for quite a while, and maybe her attitude, her insistence on doing things her way, her defiance even as the cancer ate at her and rendered her tired and weak, will mean the next time someone says they want to die at home, the medics, the paramedics, the social service teams and anyone else will remember Aunt, and honour her memory by making that path as easy as possible.


Propped up on her dressing table is a calendar from last year. It shows December. There’s a photograph of a robin in the snow, and a quotation from the gospel of St Matthew, 28:20, ‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”


So God, if you do exist, I hope you are keeping your promise, and holding Aunt close and telling her she is precious.


Sweet dreams Auntie Mary.


9 thoughts on “Sweetly Sleeping

  1. Thinking of you, Isobel, as you sit with Aunt. I’m sure, deep down, she’ll know you’re there with her and that she is precious and much loved.

  2. I read this at the office and I also was brought to tears. Your love for her and your conflict in her passing comes through so strongly in your writing. Wherever you are tonight – there or home – best thoughts to you. Time to bring out the Samuel Barber again.

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