A story about death
When we got married in June 2002, we knew that Dave’s dad was poorly. We didn’t know he’d be dead by the end of September though. It started with a chest infection, and then they found the cancer, in his throat and lungs. His wife and children were desperate for a cure or some sort of treatment, but it was far too aggressive, all we could hope and pray for was care, to ensure his last weeks and days were as pain free as possible.
He wanted to stay away from hospital as much as possible, so the dining room downstairs was converted into a bedroom. It is a common theme with old people, they think if they go into hospital they won’t come out again, or they are scared of being neglected. We managed to keep him at home for quite a long time with nurses popping in to make sure we were meeting his needs. Dave would take on the task of assisting him up the stairs to the toilet. When he could no longer manage the stairs, because his body weight had plummeted because he was unable to eat, Dave would gently and lovingly help him to urinate into a bottle. He never once showed any embarrassment or concern at having to do this, he was his father and that was that.
We got that call at about 6am. The one that you dread… he’s taken a turn for the worse and an ambulance was called to take him to hospital, they are saying his family should be there. I couldn’t leave the children as they were very young then, so Dave went alone. As soon as it was school time I shipped them off and arranged with a friend to collect them after so I could get to the hospital.
When I arrived they were all crowded around his bed, there was no space on any wards so he was stuck in the openness of the emergency admissions ward adjacent to A&E. It was loud, beepers everywhere, nurses and doctors shouting, people rushing all over the place. Not really the nice peaceful place you would want a love one to spend their final hours.
He really had gotten worse. He kept pulling his poor weak legs up to his chest in sheer agony, he had lost what little voice he had. When he did manage to speak, he only said one word, one heartbreaking word that I can still here: “home”. He wanted to be at home, we wanted nothing more than to honour his wish, but we couldn’t. After a couple of tortuous hours a nurse finally got some morphine pain relief sorted. It made all the difference, because when he took a hit, you could see him release his legs for brief moments and relax his body and drift off into a more peaceful place. Then the noises would startle him and when he awoke he was confused, like a tiny lost child, you could see the fear and worry in his eyes. We would reassure him, we would keep begging the nurses for a quieter area for him, we would notice that he had messed himself, we would get angry, sad, irritable. We asked for more morphine when it wore off and would wait a considerable time for it.
Finally at around 7pm he was found a bed on a ward, he seemed instantly more peaceful at the quietness. Then we were moved again to a private room, with a bed in the middle and plenty of space around it for us all. Dave, his mum and three sisters and myself. This was the “death bed”. We had two wonderful, patient nurses, who showed us how to administer the morphine, which we did. We made sure he was as painfree as we could. He was still whispering “home”, which broke Ivy’s heart, his wife from his teenage years. She felt as though she had failed him, we had to reassure her that this WAS the right thing. The lovely nurses got him fresh bedding and pyjamas and gave him a good wash, I knew this was so that he was clean for his passing which was not far away, but it was the most compassionate bit of care he had received all day. They were the first to show us how to tenderly brush his dry lips with water, it was these little things that meant so much to a dying man with no voice.
We endured two hours of the “death rattle”, if you have never heard it, you are lucky. He would stop breathing and then start again for over 30 minutes, we kept preparing to say goodbye then he would start again, it was horrific. Then he took his final breaths and fell asleep forever. The nurses quietly made their way to a window and opened it a touch, as if for the start of his next journey. The sadness we felt was coupled with relief. We would sit there for a good while then and his children shared stories. Even managed to make Ivy giggle a few times. Amazing how we can find humour at the darkest times. I had never watched anybody die before, but I was glad I had been there, to witness the overwhelming peace at the end of the battle, it was affirming, it was right. We kissed him and we took Ivy home for some much needed rest.
The next day would be full of tears and mourning, telling all his grandchildren their beloved grandad had died, not a nice task atall. This is that bit of your life where everybody says to you “time heals”. You don’t believe them at the time but there has never been truer words spoken.
It really does, it gets easier, you replace those memories of death with ones from before then, good times, fun times.
We all get old, we all die, so why, in these modern times, are the levels of care in a state of crisis? We should all care, people should not be laying in their own urine whilst they are dying, they should not have to beg for morphine, all they want is a bit of fucking dignity and cleanliness. Is it really too much to expect?