So she died then. My mother, that is. To be fair, she’s been saying that her children would be the death of her for the last 50 years so she was finally right. But it does mean that Morrisons caff will have one less customer, or one more seat available, depending on your outlook on life and death.
My family were advised to “Get here if you can” at about 10.30am on a Monday by the carer at the residential home where mother was now living. “Here” was about two hours chugging along at 55mph in the inside lane of the M25 for me so it was quite possible that it was going to be too late to say goodbye. I guess they didn’t build the old Landrover Defender with mercy dashes in mind.
Yes, the moment had finally come. Mother was off and I wasn’t quite sure what to do. So I ate. When I get stressed I eat for England. So my first stop was the Texaco for a carrier bag full of Hoola Hoops (2 grab bags), Discos (grab bag), KP Peanuts (£1 a bag, so I got four), a clammy petrol station sandwich, a cheese pastie and a bag of Midget Gems (also irresistible at £1).
When I finally got to the care home my hunger-stress had subsided and I went straight in, only briefly saying hello to the dapper male resident who always stands sentry at the front door, dressed immaculately for a night out in Soho in the mid 1950s. Upstairs, I paused for a moment outside mother’s bedroom door. A small sandy-coloured pug appeared next to me, waiting to be let into the adjacent room to make a visit to a resident. Odd, but kind of normal, I thought. Why wouldn’t a care home allow dogs inside to mingle? I sometimes forgot that care homes are not hospitals – they are homes and loads of homes have dogs. So… normal.
Anyway, I won’t go too much into what I saw when I entered my mother’s room but suffice it to say that I was fairly shocked; only a week before she’d been as effusive as ever with her views on politics and facial hair – on men as well as women. Now she looked like she couldn’t open a copy of her beloved Daily Mail, never mind read it.
After a few minutes of being useless, I went outside into the corridor. The lady from the opposite room popped her head out to ask if everything was okay. She could immediately tell by the look on my face (and perhaps the empty crisp packet in my hand) that it wasn’t. “Oh… she’d only got as far as telling me about her time in the American Airforce. All very exciting! I don’t suppose I’ll ever know what happened now…” She trailed off as a smiling carer took her hand and whisked her away for a cup of tea. Again, odd, but normal, I thought.
Back inside, as we watched mother fading away like a water colour painting in the rain, her rapid physical and spiritual demise clearly showing that there was no need for a doctor now, she summoned one last effort to say, “I don’t want to go out today. I’ve been shopping. I want to die in bed please.” Clearly mother wasn’t going anywhere in an upright position today. She smiled and we laughed, along with the carer who stood at the end of the bed. Odd, but so normal.
There was a moment that followed when mother stopped breathing (or so we thought) and the digital monitor stopped flickering (kind of, or did it?) when we all looked at each other slightly confused, not knowing whether she was gone or not. So we all looked at the carer, the only person in the room who really knew. She knew because she’d seen it so many times, but she turned to us all individually as though this was her first time too. Mother might have lived her life with quite a bang, but her exit would barely qualify as a whimper.
And that was about it really for me, my wife, and my sister, and her family, and definitely for mother. The care home managers came to offer their sympathies and the door to mother’s bedroom was closed. At the same time the door next to hers opened and the pugnacious little pug wandered out to find someone else to make a fuss of him. Odd, but totally normal.
The reason I wanted to share my experience about this whole scene was not out of some wish for cathartic relief on my part, but instead to comment on the quite breathtaking way in which the carers, or the ones I met that day at least, handled one of the biggest moments in our lives and the last moments in mother’s life with such empathy, sympathy and professionalism. Carers for elderly people deal with life and inevitable death situations nearly every day. Just think about that on your way to work at your desk or behind the counter. EVERY DAY.
I, for one, couldn’t do it. But I’m so respectful of the people who can and I’m personally very glad that, through my work at everyLIFE, I can at least help the carers to have a better quality of professional life too. So thanks, you carers, for doing something that to regular civilians can seem at these difficult times to be so really, really odd, but you make look so very, very normal.
By Rob Swift, Head of Marketing & Design