A Day That Demanded All I Had

There were eight months which were probably the most intense of all my working life. October 2012 – May 2013. They were tough! I was working in an infirmary caring for patients with terminal illness. I helped to train a team of volunteers.

We were caring for Abigail, a wonderful woman who was almost one hundred years of age and had been affected by Alzheimer’s disease for the previous ten years. She was a very special lady. The whole care team were absolutely devoted to her, but especially the most experienced of our carers (Penny – who everyone called “Matron”) I must write about both Abigail and Penny.

In October 2012 Abigail started to deteriorate rapidly. The number of patients had doubled in the past few weeks and I was having to train new carers to use equipment they had never seen before. We needed everyone to do extra hours to help with the round the clock support needed. I was with Abigail when she took her last breath.

Then my good friend Catrina came back from Africa with some puzzling symptoms. Less than two months later I was with Catrina as she was taking her last breaths. What a special woman Catrina was! One of my inspirations and role-models:

Catrina And Catbells

The morning she died, my manager had received a call to say that not one of the eight male carers I had trained for the past three months was available to assist Arnold, a ninety year old gentleman with Parkinsons disease. So I had to go straight from Katrina to assist Arnold. I was exhausted after being awake all night. But you just had to carry on. There was not time to grieve.

ill.jpgPenny, our most experienced carer had come down with a cold just after Abigail’s death, so she had not been involved with Catrina’s care. We were all concentrating on Catrina so much, none of us had stopped to think about how many days of work Penny had missed. Penny had been sending us text messages to encourage us, because she knew we were in a very demanding situation and that emotions were wrought.

When we lost Catrina, we finally realized something was seriously wrong with Penny. On the day of Catrina’s funeral, our manager had to carry Penny down the stairs from her bedroom and took her in his car straight to hospital. Three months later, we were all around Penny’s hospital bed while she was taking her last breaths. After two hours sleep I had to be be at work ready to help our other patients in the infirmary.

goodbyes at hospital.jpgI think the day of Penny’s death was perhaps the longest of my life. I had been with Penny for around twelve hours and had alerted the team that I really thought this was it. You can tell. Her breathing had changed. There was that smell. If you are unfamiliar with being with someone when they slip away, you might find it hard to imagine (you may not want to imagine) but I had seen it before and I was sure she was going. Marta, Suzie and others close to Penny, made the journey into the hospital so that they could say goodbye to Penny.

marta.jpgAt around midnight, we had to have a difficult conversation. Penny was still breathing. There was a crowd of us in her room, and most of us had to be up at the crack of dawn to start caring for the other patients we had in our infirmary. Marta was going to be on the late shift the next day. Marta had been devoted to Penny especially since she realized she was ill. We tore ourselves away from the bed and left Penny with Marta and a lifelong friend who had come down from Scotland to be with her. We all knew it was the right thing to do, Penny would have insisted on it, but it was very hard to leave her.

Suzie and I reached our flat after one o’clock in the morning. Penny stopped breathing a couple of hours later and Marta sent us a text message to say that Penny had gone to sleep. Suzie and I had harldy slept a wink but at five o’clock we had to start getting ready to be on the early shift at work. Suzie chose to stay in the main infirmary dining room with most of the residents of the infirmary and the night carers.

helping arnoldI had to go to be with Arnold and his wife. Arnold was especially disorientated in the morning and often had physical challenges. His wife found it very difficult and on entering their room, normally for the first half an hour Arnold’s wife would be offloading all of her stresses to is as we tried to help Arnold. I was not in the mood that morning I have to admit. Before she could wear me down any further, I mentioned to her that Penny had passed away. She was genuinely sad. She loved Penny. The two of us sat on the sofa holding hands and Arnold slept quietly. Then when Arnold woke up I started helping him.

nursesI had to work all day. There were initially some hugs and tears together. But there was also a lot of upset because some of the infirmary team had clashed with Penny and were not as close to her. I think they felt a little guilt, I don’t know. But now they seemed to be a bit brutal about the loss of Penny.  Some of the carers were upset that they had not been able to get to hospital to say goodbye. They seemed annoyed with me for not sending individual text messages to everyone of them. I had texted our infirmary managers and Marta and Suzie because they were my flatmates and had worked with Penny for years. There was a lot of work to do, and I had the feeling that noone was going to let us grieve that day.

lucia.jpgI remember having to go down to the main kitchen with another carer, Lucia, who had been very close to Penny. (There were five of us who were known as Penny’s girls: Lucia, Milagros, Marta, Suzie and me.) Lucia and I were greeted by the boys in the kitchen with joking and teasing. We were not in the mood! They asked us: “what was the matter? why were we so glum?” One of the boys even asked “has someone died or something?” Lucia’s eyes filled with tears. I was shocked. I quietly explained that Penny had died during the night. The boys reaction was “who was Penny? was she one of the older ladies in the infirmary?” I was really shocked. Until just two months before, Penny had regularly gone down to the kitchen to obtain the food for the infirmary lunch just as Lucia and I were doing. In fact Penny had been doing that as part of her assignment as a full-time volunteer in the infirmary for over thirty years.

That day was hard because the five of us girls, Penny’s girls, were heart-broken. But that particular day was long and cold and hard. And strangely even some of those who had worked with Penny seemed to be saying to us “life goes on”, just a few hours after we had lost our wonderful friend. You know all of those awful phrases that you are never ever supposed to say to someone who is grieving…we heard all of them that day and for the next few days. It was sickening.

It marked the end of an era in many ways. I can’t explain all of the changes after we lost Penny right now; there were many changes. But fortunately, the directors of the charities we worked for had taken an interest in us, and saw that we were under intense emotional pressure and physical demands. So they tried to lighten the load for us, by diversifying our assignment and bringing more carers into the infirmary for us to train.

Aaaaaaaah! Those were some of the most demanding and heart-breaking months of my working life. Long hours, sleepless nights, repressing our grief, and of course none of us were being paid a penny for our work. For a while I felt as if we were expected to work like machines and not to allow any emotions to slow us down. There was always work to do, always other people to help. I did feel I was stretched almost to breaking point. I think that day when we had just lost our beloved Penny was probably the longest day of my life. Somehow, the heart of the infirmary had grown cold and stopped beating. It was not the same after losing Penny and we all knew it. The warm family environment that Penny had established disintegrated somewhat. We were glad of being sent on other assignments, but often we were working on our own in isolated locations…and that was a stark contrast to having close colleagues who were like family.

Just after we lost Penny, Jack moved into the flat I was living in and started to play strange games with me. Maybe if I had not been so exhausted emotionally I would have been able to cope better with Jack.

Writing Prompt #25

Thou Art Gone…And Forever

20180102_074453-01

I was reading through the post from Laura Bailey, creator of All The Shoes I Wear with her Three Way Writing Prompt, which she posts each Monday. The photo above is part of that prompt and another part is the word “EVANESCENT”. I kind of knew what it meant, but I rarely use it in conversation, so I thought I would check the definition.

Evanescent: soon passing out of sight, memory, or existence;

quickly fading or disappearing

Now, please do forgive me, but I felt a ripple of pain strike through my heart. I don’t want to let go of Goldfinch in my heart. I am determined to keep him  there always. Now I have a real reason never to let go of him.

I have agreed to go for a coffee with a man (a friend of a friend) on a sort of date. Goldfinch knows – I have told him I feel awful about it – it seems like a betrayal for some reason. But it seems like a good idea for reasons I won’t write about in this post.

I am almost more terrified of the coffee-date going well, than of it being a disaster. I am going to write more about that situation in other posts. But the photo in Laura’s writing prompt and the word “evanescent” made me think of a very famous verse from Sir Walter Scott’s “The Lady Of The Lake”:

So sad!! Every now and then grief rushes over me like a giant wave and a gnawing aching thought that he has gone…and forever…oppresses me. It’s so oppressive. I cannot let it dominate my thinking. I try to dwell on the wonderful memories I shared with him and be happy that he is happy and where he belongs.

I am going out on this coffee-date because I don’t think I should wallow in grief for a long long time. I am going out on this coffee-date because  am still in constant communication with Goldfinch and can involve him in my decisions. I am going on this coffee-date because I am frightened of being alone and having to deal with future challenges on my own. I might possibly be going on this coffee-date because deep down I am in need of a man to hug me and hold me and allow the accrued pain from all sorts of losses – some little, some large to ease out of my heart.

There are things I need and am going to need in the future that Goldfinch just can’t provide from Australia. I would have been content to stay in a bubble of grief for longer. But I have to be mindful of the future.

But I do not want my love for Goldfinch to be evanescent. I do not want it to fade away. I felt so horrified at the very thought of my love for Goldfinch being evanescent that I immediately searched for words that have the opposite meaning and now I have a substantial list:

long-lived

imperishable

continuing

lifelong

abiding

durable

persistent

timeless

eternal

unfading

enduring

indestructible

lasting

immortal

I know there are others, including some wonderful bloggers, who have lost on a far greater scale than I have. I am sure you have grieved even more deeply than I. This awful dread that my love could be evanescent. This guilt over agreeing to go on a coffee-date. This determination never to let go, to cling tight to a love that has meant so much, and expect everyone in the world to know that he cannot be replaced – it’s just he’s gone, and I don’t believe he is coming back.

I am sure there are many who will understand and empathize and probably be able to express it very beautifully.

 

https://alltheshoesiwear.wordpress.com/2019/01/21/manic-mondays-3-way-prompt-evanescent/

FOWC with Fandango — Determined

She Taught Me To Blow My Nose

I had a bit of a sniffle a couple of weeks ago, and because I was blowing my nose a hundred times a day, I started to remember someone who was part of my very early years.  Aunt Bessy. My memory of her is a very warm and gregarious character, in a rather rotund package.  Poor Aunt Bessy, was sitting in a dining chair with arms once, and when she stood up, the chair rose with her, as the arms were digging into her generous girth.  She squealed with laughter, which made it alright for us little ones to giggle.

She was very much loved by all the children who knew her.  She had about twenty grandchildren of her own whom we often played with.  They were so fond of Aunt Bessy. We were a little jealous, and wished she was our grandmother also.

There were no limits on the love and kindness Aunt Bessy had to share with others.  She adored my mum was very supportive of her.  Aunt Bessy was generous to us, she always had something to give us, cakes, sweets, toys.  However, there was a strict side to her aswell.  She had a real problem with me…me and my nose.  As a little one, I had not grasped how to blow my nose properly!

She scolded me on many occasions about wiping my nose on my sleeve, or not wiping it at all, but letting my nose run instead!

She introduced me to a handkerchief and taught me to practice blowing my nose.  And practice I did!  Every time I saw Aunt Bessy, I would run over to her and ask her to watch me while I blew my nose.  She would laugh and tell me I was not doing it properly.  She would talk me over the proper technique again!  I kept on and on trying.

Lots of our little friends (probably related to Aunt Bessy) told us they had been to her home to visit.  They told us how tasty the dishes that she had cooked were. They excitedly described her special fishies.

I wanted to go to visit Aunt Bessy’s home and taste her cooking and see her fishies.  I asked Mum to ask Aunt Bessy for an invitation.  When Mum let her know how keen I was to visit, Aunt Bessy sternly told me that I would not be allowed to visit until I had learnt to blow my nose properly!

With renewed determination I practiced in real earnest, until one day, I sensed that there was something different.  I seemed to have all of a sudden acquired the proper technique because there were visible results (deleted the graphic description for your dear sakes).

I was so excited when I could finally perform a successful “nose-blow” in front of Aunt Bessy.  She was delighted with me and I received one of her wonderful warm hugs.  My next question was:

Does this mean I can come and visit you now?”

A lunch-time visit was arranged.  I thought Aunt Bessy was so considerate even to ask Mum what we would like to eat.  Mum never asked us!  I can’t remember whether it was fish fingers or chicken nuggets in breadcrumbs, but I do remember it came with chips and baked beans.  I was so thrilled.  She showed us her fishies.  I was in awe of them. They seemed magnificent. Coy carp I believe, they were the biggest fish I had ever seen and seemed so beautiful.

She gave me a little gift.  It was a box of three handkerchiefs with my initials embroidered into the corner of each. The kind of gift I wish I had kept.  But that was thirty years ago.

One icy winter, Aunt Bessy was in the front seat of the car her husband was driving. Uncle Justin was also a lovely man.  I will tell you about him one day.  Mum and Dad told us afterwards that it all happened very quickly. The juggernaut of a lorry on the opposite carriageway had lost control and was skidding as they came around the bend of the road.  My parents told us that Uncle Justin and Aunt Bessy would have hardly suffered, they would have died instantly.

I am sure I had known of others to die, but it was the first time my parents had dressed us all up smartly to take us to the funeral.  As we were all ready to leave our family home, I gave out emotionally.  I ran upstairs and hid in the huge mahogany wardrobe in our bedroom.  Dad came to find me.

child sobbing.jpgI was distraught.  I could not control my violent sobs and streaming tears.  The reality of what had happened had hit me and I could not leave the house.  My parents did not want to force me to attend the funeral.  I stayed with one of our neighbours, who had daughters a similar age to myself, while the rest of my family attended the funeral for Uncle Justin and Aunt Bessy.

I was only around five or six.  I know I had started school because Aunt Bessy had bought sweeties for my first school trip. That was the first year I read the Bible for myself.  I needed to. I had questions from that moment on. I needed to find the answers to my questions. I have read it over and over many times since, but that was the first year I read it rapaciously. All my other story books seemed pretty boring after reading the epic accounts and dramatic dialogue of an array of characters.

The first time I read that the Creator can restore life to someone who has died…I felt huge relief. Even now, the nine accounts of those who had died being restored to life, are amongst my favourite passages. From that moment, I started to think about what I will say when Uncle Justin and Aunt Bessy wake up again.

I still find, every time I have a sniffle or a cold, and find myself blowing my nose a hundred times a day, my mind floods with memories of dear Aunt Bessy.

 

 

 

 

 

You Took All The Colours Away

I hope you believe me when I say I have a sunny smiley disposition and am mostly brimming with joy.  I have my moments…but at the moment nothing that a good curry or a telephone call to a family member or a night out with friends cannot cure.

However…I am starting to feel gloomy about Goldfinch going back to Australia in four months time.  I don’t want it to brew on it, stew on it, find myself being blue because of it.  I would rather maintain my happiness and enjoy every moment while he is here, and grieve after he has gone.

I have my grieving song all ready to play over and over when he has gone.  I have already started singing it in the shower.  Between you and me…I really don’t want him to go – sob sob.

I remember colours painted in my eyes
Green was for the springtime, blue the summer skies
And now the skies have darkened, the white clouds turn to grey
What a way to break a heart, you took all the colours away

Dark black is the colour of my life
Since you’ve been gone
Since you’ve been gone
Oh if you come back
Make my whole world bright
Since you’ve been gone
Dark black is the colour of my life

I remember visions, you taught me how to see
The world of vived colours was right there in front of me
Oh but what good is a rainbow, if the picture’s in black and in white?
Oh what good is a future when there’s not a colour inside?

Since you’ve been gone
Since you’ve been gone

 

 

https://swimmersweek.wordpress.com/2018/07/28/black/