local nursing homes died a few days ago. There is of course nothing unusual about death in an establishment given over to the care of the very elderly. I often wonder what it is like to live in one of those places and to be surrounded by people who are perhaps not going to be there in the morning.
I knew the old woman - she was 98 - but not well. We would smile and say hello to each other if she happened to be in the sitting area when I went to see other elderly people.
"Mary never has visitors," I was told by more than one person. Because of that I made the effort to say hello. Occasionally we would exchange a word about the weather or some other trivial matter. Last Christmas, after asking one of the senior staff, I slipped a tiny bag I had knitted into her hand. It was filled with lavender from our garden. I told her it was a "little something for Christmas". I have no idea why I did it - although the oldies I did know were getting similar tiny things from me.
She gave me a brief smile and said "thankyou" but there was no other reaction. We went back to talking about things like the weather or the cardigans she wore - made by herself years before.
Yesterday I had occasion to go into the nursing home and the senior staff member on duty called me in to the staff room.
A couple of the younger staff were standing there and talking about the death of a rock singer I had never heard of. They were full of how sad it was and, yes, it is a tragedy for a much younger and much loved person to die of breast cancer but she was not someone they knew personally. They had known Mary, much better than I did but did not seem in the least distressed by her death. Perhaps they can only cope with their jobs by not minding too much the death of those they care for?
The staff member told me what had happened,
"She slipped away in her sleep poor old thing - but she left something for you."
She handed over a paper bag. My name was written shakily on the outside. Inside there was the little lavender bag and a handkerchief. The handkerchief is obviously new. It has a crochet border. The crochet is not terribly well done and it is not quite finished.
"She was making it for you - she could only manage a few stitches a day. She took that lavender bag to bed with her every night. You know she never had visitors?"
I wish I had told her I was coming to see her.