Wednesday, 8 February 2012

I went to a

funeral yesterday. It was for a woman of eighty-two. Eighty-two is a good age but not, now, a great age. My father is seven years older. I know many more people older still.
This woman was not well. I had seen her in the nursing home where she was living about ten days previously. She was distressed then because she had just had "a small accident" as she described it. The young girl helping her was kind and caring but it was still acutely embarrassing for her.
          "I hate being like this," she told me, "I cause so much work. And I need you to do something too dear."
I promised her husband I would care for her until her daughter moved back to the city. Her daughter's husband is a teacher and I knew he would, in the usual scheme of things, be given a city appointment next. Until then I did the little bits of shopping, dealt with the mail and the bills and her tax return and all the other things that she had never done. I wrote her new will, a simple affair leaving everything equally divided between her two children. The neighbours witnessed it for her.
I arranged a Power of Attorney to be jointly held by her son-in-law and myself in his absence and then, when he returned, by him alone. She was not my family and I had no desire to be more involved than necessary but I was involved.
She really had almost nobody else. There was one friend from childhood. They might see one another twice a year. There was a cousin who sometimes made a trip to the city. There was really nobody else. The nursing home staff told me I was her only visitor apart from her daughter's family. Her son lived on the other side of the country.
I knitted socks for her. She had a heart condition and her feet were constantly cold. Even on the hottest of summer days she wore woollen socks and a cardigan as well. I never saw her dressed in anything other than slacks. Clothes were of no great interest to her. Books were. She read, graduating to large print as her eyesight grew worse. I went with her when she got the hearing aids she needed to hear anything other than a single voice.
When she still lived alone it was a challenge to make her eat. Food did not interest her. She liked yoghurt and dark chocolate, bananas and the soups I made. It was difficult to tempt her with anything else. The staff talked to me about what she liked to eat and did their best. She would try to please them but told me,
          "I never feel hungry."
The last time I saw her we talked about her grandchildren but she could not remember their names. She could not remember being with them on Christmas Day or the name of their dog. Oh yes, she knew me. She told the other staff member who came in while I was there,
         "This is my other daughter."
She was not confused about that. It was what she always called me.
When I left she said, "You will come soon?"
Yes, I told her - but I never went again. She went to sleep and did not wake up. It was a good way to go in the end. There will be no more once a week visits with the flower from the garden or the small block of chocolate or the funny story or just the hug and the kiss. I am not her daughter anymore. I never was but, if it made her happy to believe that, then I was happy to let her think that way.
Her funeral was a very quiet affair. There were her blood relatives, four neighbours from the street in which she had lived, two members of staff representing the nursing home, her old school friend and me. As she had no religious beliefs there was a celebrant who struggled to find enough to say.
I could have told them a little more. She had asked me to return her two library books and find some more from the quite well stocked library in the nursing home. Oh yes, she liked to read. She loved what she called "real adventures".
        "You know Cat," she would tell me, "It might have been great fun to do some of those things."
She never did.


Sheep Rustler said...

That's a sweet post. I suppose when people reach their 80s many of their friends have died, and it is hard when families don't live nearby. It sounds like she was right to think of you as another daughter :) And my doctor would say that there are worse things to live on than (good) soup, yoghurt and dark chocolate!

Anonymous said...

A great way to go - just fall asleep. How kind you were to her! My mother lived to age 97, and I'm now a very healthy 72. But we're all different, and "go" at different times. A time and a season...

Take care!
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror & Other Memoirs

Nicola said...

I loved this post. You were lovely to look after her like you did and I hope that should I be fortunate to live to that age, that I have an angel like you at my side. x