She Ain’t Dead Yet

When Mother was ill in hospital she said she wanted to die. She said it again at various times when anxiety, fear and dementia overwhelmed her.

Listening to Aunt, what I hear is her desire to live. I told her today that I don’t think she’s dying now. She is someone with too firm a grip on life. Maybe that was why she sent me out to buy her some wafer thin ham and bread rolls. I confess I was surprised by this request, but not as surprised as the Specialist Nurse when I told her of my shopping list.

“Not for her,” she said. Her words were more a statement than a question. I skipped the bit about being vegetarian, and said, “Yes, for her. She says she’ll nibble them.”

The SN, so surprised she nearly forgot her professionalism, told me Aunt was amazing and that she astounded that she was still alive. I’ll leave you to sort out which she is which there. I am confident you’ll cope.


A similar tale with the Hospice Nurses who have been so used to being rejected by Aunt that they now just ‘drop in’ if they are near. “She’s a very determined lady,” they said. “Yes,” I said, thinking that if they had met the clan en masse it might have been an experience from which they would not have recovered.

Cousin and I have often said that Mother and her siblings, who of course include Cousin’s father, my Uncle Tommy, were a difficult bunch. One of my first school reports said I was determined to the point of defiance. Mother loved to quote it, I think she saw it as meaning I was cut from the same stone as she was.

But I have kept you waiting. Here are two photos of Aunt today. The first shows her looking very severe, though I think she was looking at photos of MasterB who she loves, which I had just put on her tablet. Though thinking about it, it may have been when she scrolled back to look at our various outings over two summers. When she saw the photo later, she looked at it in surprise. “I bet you didn’t think you could look so stern,” I said.

Stern Aunt

Stern Aunt

The second is marred by shadow, but the smile is there, so is the bruise on her head. I have tried to tell her that she has a global fandom, but I don’t think she’s taken it on board. Not sure how to progress that one.

Still Smiling

Still Smiling

We listened to Lemn Sissay on Desert Island Discs and she loved his voice. She gasped when he spoke about how his foster parents were told to consider the placement an adoption, and I should like her to hear it again, maybe in bits, and to hear her comments on his story.

No, she is most definitely still alive.

Endings and Beginnings

I am still awake, but only just. It has been another rollercoaster ride of a day, and I have never liked fairgrounds.
Mother continues to die, and for throughout today had times when she seemed agitated. She is definitely happier on her side, in a foetal position, but has to be turned to prevent sores, and that in itself is distressing for her. I felt she was passing beyond being able to respond. She did react this morning when I called her Mum, but my impression was that she was slipping further away. So two big surprises this evening. Nephew came and I told him I wanted to put some moisturiser on her face as she had been scratching, and i thought her skin looked very dry. I had tried her usual cream, but it seemed heavy. However, there was a bottle of Simple face lotion in the bathroom cabinet. Nephew warmed it in his hands then told Mother he was going to apply it. Very gently he started on her forehead and she turned towards him, obviously enjoying the touch of his hands. Shortly afterwards, she started struggling to sit up, so we raised the bed. Her eyes, which had been mostly shut all day, opened. I offered her her glasses. She accepted them on her face. She seemed to be trying to say something, but the words wouldn’t come out. Then I stroked her cheek and said how nice her face felt with the moisturiser on it. “Thank-you,” she said clearly. My father used to say she was like a terrier; once she got her teeth into something she wouldn’t let go. There may be less than five stone of her, but she is not giving up easily. I think she was really enjoying feeling part of the chat. She tired pretty quickly, but as she was calmer, I felt happier about leaving. I leant over her and said I will be back in the morning, that I love her and am proud of her. Her hand came out from under the covers and clasped mine. There is no price you can put on a moment like that. Magic.
MasterB, meanwhile, had spent a long day alone on das Boot. He was by the door as I unlocked it, full of vim. He is at the beginning of his life, as Mother is at the end of hers. I had a few things to put inside and something to get from the car. I opened one of the windows and got off the boat. He had already had some shore leave this morning when he met the resident geese, watched a woman arrive in her car, do something to her boat and leave again. He has his eye on a couple of boats and has to be lifted away from them. I am letting him get off das Boot in his own time, then putting the harness on him. The arrival of a second car decided him to return aboard.
Last night he settled for a short perambulation on the gunwale. Tonight he climbed confidently out of the window, completed a circuit of the boat’s exterior, and with a fine disregard for my nerves, leapt ashore. I scrambled rather less elegantly up the pontoon and put his harness on before he could get very far.

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Tears and Smiles

Today has been tearful. Even when I haven’t been crying, I’ve felt as though I am. I can’t say it’s acceptance, more acknowledgement of defeat. We can’t win this one. There’s only one outcome, and though I can’t wish for Mother to continue a slow decline into unknowing dementia, the prospect of her death fills me with a howling animal sadness and powerlessness. I want to hide her from it, shield her with my own body, keep her safe and protected, stop death in its tracks by the power of my will.
She has done it so many times before. She has spent her life proving doctors wrong. As a newborn, she was sickly, and so was baptised at home because she was not expected to survive. We have saluted her, grinned at each other when she has once again deflected death, marvelled proudly at this tiny indomitable figure and her tenacity for life. But of course that can’t go on for ever. Even Mother can’t survive the continued onslaughts of old age and illness.
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Par For the Course

I didn’t rate the doctor’s bedside manner very highly. She measured Mother’s oxygen levels and seemed more interested in asking what we were giving her to drink than getting her pain relief sorted. I asked about the oxygen. She said a number that meant nothing to me in the context. What does that mean? I asked. Well, par for the course she said. I’m sorry, I said, but you need to spell it out; how is it par for the course? Near death, she said.
Then she disappeared with the nurse to get the patches to help dry the secretions in Mother’s throat and to give her relief from pain. They seemed to be gone ages. I rubbed Mother’s hand, kissed her and told her the pain would soon be gone. She had been whimpering with it. It is not a sound I ever want to hear her make again.

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We Wait

Mother was awake when I arrived, just a few minutes after Aunt and Mother’s friend had left. She was quiet for a while, listening to the CD that was playing; Irish Gospel. It includes Lord the day thou gavest is ending, which coincidentally had come into a conversation on a radio programme this morning when I was driving about gathering more fruit juice and so on. I sang along and Mother woke up.
Maybe I am unnatural, but I found myself wondering about its suitability as a funeral hymn. It has a comforting feel. Our ability as humans to live in several planes at the same time is thrown into sharp relief at times like these. One minute I am browsing the aisles of Waitrose, looking in vain for small cartons of apple and mango juice, the next, tears are running down my face at the thought of Mother dying.

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