I recently spent a morning with Mary in hospital. Over the last few weeks, she has deteriorated considerably. I found her lying there, white as a sheet, thin, shaky, and struggling to form sentences. I felt frightened seeing her like this. But then she reached out her hand and started to cry. I immediately kicked in to support mode.
A few weeks before, for the first time ever she said the words “if anything should ever happen to me” and started talking about funeral arrangements and her Will. Clearly something is shifting, but she won’t allow her emerging realisations to be fully integrated into her personality. She is desperate to be perceived as the feisty determined woman she has been for her entire life. She ended the conversation saying “not that I’m gonna pop off any time soon…I’m gonna hang on by my toenails.” Even lying in her hospital bed, tubes and machines surrounding her, she starts talking of getting treatment, going back to normal and having two or three more years.
It is quite amazing to watch first hand, the workings of a mind and its way of processing, or not, the ever increasing reality that time is running out. I spoke more candidly with her that day in the hospital and encouraged her to ask questions when she expressed frustration at not knowing why this was all happening. I told her it could well all be a consequence of her illness. She then had a moment of complete awareness of what was really happening and she said “I spose its better happening now than when I was young. I’ve had a good life.” And for a second I felt relieved and thought, “yes, she’s accepted it”. And then, before I even finished my sigh of relief, she was back saying “still, once they’ve figured this out, I can start eating and I’ll begin to get better again.”
After 4 hours at her bedside I tell her I’m going to go home. She looks like a little girl and it takes all my strength to leave her. I feel completely poleaxed by the time I get home. And yet with this sort of wiry energy that doesn’t know how to be expressed. I know this is bringing me right back to the days before mum died. In fact, it’s bringing me back to the months before when mum was in the same ward. I think what I’m realising is that a part of me is trying to make up for what I feel I failed at with mum. I wish I had had the presence of mind I have right now with Mary to have been there with mum more. I wasn’t conscious enough with mum to consider sitting with her, to read to her, stroke her hair, massage her hands – all of which I spent all morning doing with Mary and will do several times again until she dies. With mum, I just busied myself telling her friends and family to come round and say their goodbyes. I created my role of PA and booked up ‘farewell’ slots for everyone else, not realising that I was leaving myself out. I took advantage of the fact that she was upstairs and wasn’t going to be going anywhere, without thinking exactly why that was the case.
I’m aware the tone of this post might sound somewhat similar to my last one…reminiscing, regrets. But I don’t mean it too. I have accepted that this is just something I need to do. I have worked hard at resolving my regrets over the last few months, so this is not out of desperation, or denial. My dedication to Mary is simply my way of making sense of what happened. It’s my way of creating value out of a personal tragedy.