Saturday 19 November 2022

Losing your ability to speak

is a terrifying idea - and that is what has just happened to someone I know.

I don't know this person well. She is very shy and rarely said anything at all. She is a nun, one of the small and diminishing group of Dominican nuns who live on the same convent grounds as my friend P...  Her entire adult life has been lived in an extraordinary period. She has gone from wearing a habit and believing she would only leave the convent for things like dental appointments to dressing in civilian clothes and driving a car.  

I suspect those changes were harder for her than for most of the nuns. Being a nun would have suited her. In the beginning they would have found ways for her to work without the need for too much contact with others. My friend P... on the other hand was told she would be a teacher of the deaf, a job she did for many years. C... worked in other ways.

P... brought her here once. The Senior Cat was still at home then. C... came to give me her quilting things. She could no longer do her beautiful work and I was going to pass the last two on to be finished for charity.  C.... and the Senior Cat actually talked to one another. It took C... a little while to relax but soon she was answering the Senior Cat's questions and he was showing her some of his woodwork. Later P... told me that she had never known her friend to open up like that to a stranger. 

I am glad she had that time here and that I could later tell her the quilts were finished and had been passed on to benefit those in need.

Several weeks ago she had difficulty in speaking. It was an effort. She felt a little strange. She asked to see the nurse who visits there regularly to help some of the other elderly nuns. The nurse was immediately alert to a problem and a trip to hospital was arranged. A diagnosis of an inoperable brain tumour was made. C... came home and, as is their way, the rest of the community rallied around. She would stay with them as long as possible.

Then a few days ago she woke one morning and found she was unable to speak. She pressed her emergency button. It called the ambulance and she was taken off to hospital again.

P.... called me on Thursday evening and told me and asked, "Could you make one of those communication boards for her?"

My immediate thought was, "I don't know how much use that will be." But, I didn't say that. P.... and I discussed it for a few minutes. As P... still cannot drive after her own time in hospital I said, "I'll come down in the morning and we will do something together. You start thinking about what C... might need to say."

I hauled out the file I keep and put together some of the material I thought would help P.... 

Yesterday I went down to the convent. P... greeted me with an expression which was a mix of anxiety and relief. We went to work and produced the sort of simple thing that I have done so many times for able adults before now - words on a page so that someone can point and express their basic needs.

As we worked I explained to P... why this or that should be there or how to do something else. I could see P... beginning to relax, to look a little more hopeful. 

P... mentioned the nun who is "boss" (no longer a Mother Superior) was going to be away. I asked her who else was going to be available for decision making.  P...made a phone call and I also spoke to the "boss". The phone was on the loud speaker so she didn't actually say anything but I could hear the "I'm glad you are there giving P... some reassurance" in B...'s voice.

Because yes, this was not about giving C... a voice again. I had not been to see C...  If I was called in to the hospital to help I would do things quite differently. I suspect, because of the area of the hospital in which she is placed, someone will already have tried to do something very basic or arranged to do something.

When I first met P... I suppose I had the idea that, being a nun, death was something she would at least view differently. Perhaps she does too but it still means the loss of people she has lived with for many years, of whom she is fond and cares about. 

We took our work over to the office and laminated the result. The girl in there was very kind to P... She met my eyes over P...'s head as she bent over the end result. We both knew this was being done for P... as well as C... 

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