Saturday, August 02, 2014

Death’s waiting room

Today I will go to look at a nursing home in Parkdale with my older sister.  This nursing home is one recommended by a woman they call the Discharge Planner who works at the Dandenong hospital and takes responsibility for helping folks like us to find a last home for our ageing parent. 

My image of a nursing home is one of urine smelling wards filled with rows of single beds and each occupied by a bedridden and sunken body, almost unrecognisable as the person who once occupied that space. 

Nursing homes are not supposed to be as bad these days but I shall soon find out.  

Once upon a time people died at home in the care of their loved ones.  But that’s not so easy these days.  All mum’s loved ones, not including those estranged, and scattered as we are throughout Australia, work at jobs, have children and other responsibilities.  Not one of us could/would take off time to sit with her full time.  Besides her nursing care needs are too great for the unskilled.

I have tried to imagine what my mother’s death might be like were she left alone to die.

We had a cat once. We named her Tilly, a black and white moggie with a sour disposition.  We collected Tilly from the RSPCA when our oldest daughter was seven years old.  We figured Tilly must have been a cat abandoned at birth or otherwise ill-treated because of her apparent unhappiness.  She whined a lot. 

In retrospect, I recognise that the policy we put in place in those days, a policy that says animals belong out of doors, did not help.  Once she had acclimatised to our house, Tilly lived out of doors, at least during the day.  By night she could come inside.  She could not be trusted around the local possums and other creatures of the suburbs. 

Tilly did not like this. Day and night, she wanted to spend within the best rooms of the house, the least cluttered, the most comfortable, like my consulting room.  

If I found that she had snuck into this room when I was not looking I scolded her and sent her back down the corridor to take up residence elsewhere, but she kept coming back. 

For years and even more so with the arrival of our second cat, Pickles, Tilly kept up her miserable whining day and night.  In between sleeping.  Until one day she disappeared.  

My brother found her on a visit.   She had slunk off to the verandah, under the boards, hidden from view where she had died.  She died alone.  We buried her in our back garden, her shroud a disposable shopping bag because we could not fit her rigid frame into a shoe box.

People do not die the way we see them die in the movies.  In the movies it usually happens fast.  There is a breathless crescendo, an attempt to utter a few closing words, and then boom, they’re gone. 

The idea of a grim reaper who carries a person off in one swoop, or a black car that arrives at your doorstep ready to collect you, these are all fantasies.  

Unless and except in cases of horrible accident, mishap or heart attack, stroke and the like, death tends to come slowly, incrementally.  Little by little death sneaks up on a person, and slowly but surely it becomes obvious that the person who is dying begins to withdraw all energy from the world around her. 

My mother wants now to do nothing but sleep.  She refuses food.  She is restless in her legs from time to time but otherwise she lies still, eyes closed, out of it, ready to move into death's waiting room.   

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