|Dressed as a smurf, for my father's dying.|
Last week, the care home that had looked after Dad so well called me. He is now palliative, they said, and you can come in for one hour. I went, and I saw our father looking as people do when they are on the last leg of their journey. He was unconscious, mostly. His face had fallen into itself but his hands remained the same. I held his hand, a warm, comforting hand, and felt it close round mine so tightly that I had to prise his fingers loose for comfort. He did not wake, he did not say anything, but his hand on mine was strong and told me he knew I was with him. The tight hand hold lasted a minute, before his hand fell away. He had no more energy.
In order to see him, I wore a gown, an apron, a mask and gloves.
|Psalm 15, his favourite, the|
gentelman's psalm, he called it.
began a love affair with poetry then. I never asked him if he was often in detention in order to be given this access to poetry, and I do not know. One of the wonderful things we all did as his illness progressed over the years, was to read him poetry which would spark his memory, and he would mouth the lines as we read them.
Here I was, then, having my hour with our father. My brothers were not allowed to come, just one person. They had to be satisfied with my account of the visit. My hour.
There is something deeply wrong with a system that finds it acceptable to keep the elderly, the vulnerable, secluded in fear behind a wall of protocol. There is a deep injustice in this draconian effort to prevent death at all costs, from people who have no rights to disagree. The wall of isolation that kept my brothers and me from any contact with our father creates in our hearts anxiety, guilt, fear and anger. How can we tell an old man with Alzheimer's that we have not forgotten him? When our actions tell him that we have. How can we make peace with our old father who cannot understand why he is alone and where all the poetry has gone? He would not complain, and never did. He gave us the benefit of the doubt when our pre-Covid visits were sometimes far and few between. But there was always the choice to make it up to him, we knew we could come to him and spend more time with him when we could. And we did. And suddenly, we were gone. That was it. The message was, you're on your own Dad. Everyone around him disappeared behind blue gowns, blue hats, face masks and plastic gloves. It was dangerous to go into the rooms in the home without proper reason, and there was supposed to be no touching, no contact and no connection. Everyone was a risk, everyone was at risk, and in order to protect the home, the staff, the visitors, fortresses of fear were set up. The bleakness is worth it, we were told, in order to protect us. The unspoken side of this was, all these people locked behind this fortress of fear are a different kind of collateral damage. They won't die of Covid 19, not if we can help it, but they will die of other things anyway and unfortunately, they will have to do it alone and be part of the fall out of this madness. Can't be helped. Rules is rules.
|One of the seemingly hopeless|
Face Time calls.
On leaving the home after that first visit, with such anger and resentment for whoever makes these decisions to isolate and terrify people into mass overreaction, I decided to take our father out to die at home with me. My brothers and I put things into place and a date was arranged for a private ambulance to transport Dad to my house. The room Dad was to come to was downstairs with doors opening into the garden with all the flowers and colours that heal our failing souls. Everyone, the home, the district nurses, the carers, the GPs were on board. They understood and helped make this happen within days. All was ready, our father would not be isolated in a room without us any more. And then the home called. He may not make it, they said, and you can come now. So I, unwilling to concede defeat at this late stage, called everyone involved and arranged, by a miracle, on a Sunday, a private ambulance to come that afternoon and bring him here. He will be here, I said to myself. I will make it happen. The carers, a palliative care nurse friend and her husband, a priest, were on hand to be here and make him comfortable so he could do his dying here with me. With us. My brothers were coming, my daughter was coming, his sisters and his friends would know he was here, all would be well.
|A lovely man, our Dad|
Later, when we left him, back in his bed, I put a sprig of foliage from the plant in his room, onto his pillow. I always put a flower, or a symbol of love, on the pillow of someone who dies when I am there. With my husband Alan, there were no plants in his room so I put his model aeroplanes onto the pillow. For a treasured old lady I was looking after, I covered her pillow with fresh lavender that she loved. For Dad, I broke a piece of greenery from a pot plant in his room, and put it on his pillow. Bye, Dad, we said, and no one cried as we left him alone again, and went outside into the sun. Later, alone in our own homes, we cried.
Here is my conclusion.
We forget that life is unpredictable, and so is death. Especially death. It is in our nature to want to understand things, to be in charge of things, and we do whatever we can to make a dying make sense to us. Our father's death was caught up in a worldwide panic. I do not say pandemic, I say panic. It is beyond our control. His dying was in the end, as beautiful as it could be. It was not what we had wanted and it was not what I had organised and there, in that sentence, is the truth about death. It is not what we wanted, not what I had organised. Bringing Dad home would have been perfect. It would have helped all of us no end, giving him a suitable send off. It was not though, in the end, about us. Our father left when he did because that was his story and he had to leave when he was ready, on his terms, not ours. And if he was to have died in a soft hospital bed in my dining room, with the doors opening onto the garden and the breeze blowing and the birds singing, I would have loved that. But it is not relevant, in the end, to what was happening to him. In the end, we were with him. His three remaining children were holding him, looking like giant smurfs in our blue costumes, as he took his last breath. We made it. That, in the end was what we all wanted. He did not die alone, though it was on a stretcher beside his bed. The final moments were with us, together, and that is all of our gifts to each other. His to us, and ours to him.