Saturday, 25 January 2014

There was an e-mail yesterday

to let me know that, not unexpectedly, someone had died.  
I knew him - although not that well - and I know his wife and his daughter. We met years ago when he and I were both clearing post office boxes for other people who were away on holiday. Being a short cat I was only just able to reach the location of the box and a hand came over mine and pulled out the letter that had stuck at the far end.
It was the sort of thing that this man would do but he was, to put it mildly, a difficult man to live with. Yes, he could be thoughtful and helpful in situations like that but he was a difficult man to live with. He was very religious. He sincerely believed it was his duty to inform others about religion, his version of religion. He attended church at every possible time. He went to a Bible Study class. He ran another. When he retired from one sort of teaching he went to teach at a theological college.
He would pray aloud in public places and try to engage people in conversation about religion on public transport. His behaviour was a constant source of embarrassment to his wife and daughter.
After the first helpful act I saw him around the post office, the shopping centre and out and about. He would always try to engage me in conversation.
I was firm from the start. If he wanted to be friendly there was to be NO religious conversation. I will talk religion with a few select people. I mostly listen. I am very careful about what I say. I don't believe it is my business to interfere with what other people believe or don't believe.
Twelve months ago this man had to go into a nursing home. He had a complex range of medical problems that could no longer be managed at home.
For a short while, although he resented the need to be there, all seemed to be well. He had new people he could talk to. There were regular religious services - and he attended them all regardless of denomination. But he was soon isolated. People did not want to sit with him at meals. They did not want to engage in conversation with him. He had a few visitors to begin with - people from his church who felt they "should" go but they were rare. His daughter would take his wife to visit twice each week. They would phone him each day.
"But there is less and less to say Cat," his daughter told me, "We try to tell him what has happened here but he's not interested. We ask him what he has done and he says "nothing" and just complains that nobody will listen to him."
No, nobody would listen to him there. They are at the end of their lives too. They didn't want to hear his peculiar, twisted views.
For the last few months of his life he barely left his room. He grew depressed and almost completely inward looking. He went from talking almost constantly to saying almost nothing at all.
It was a sad end for a man who almost certainly meant well but had no understanding of the way his behaviour affected other people.
His wife will mourn him but she has been a different person since he moved into the nursing home. After the first few months of feeling completely lost she found that she could do things she had never done before. He had, without her realising it, controlled her every action.
It was all done in the name of religion. He undoubtedly meant it all very sincerely and was completely unable to see the harm he did.
It saddens me. I hope his wife will still have some time to enjoy some of the things they both missed out on.

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