Mary has died. She died peacefully at St Christopher’s Hospice. It still bewilders me that one can be so prepared for someone’s death and yet be so distraught when it actually happens.
Mary had deteriorated rapidly this last month and I went to see her twice in the hospice before she died. The first time I visited, I was so shocked by the changes I had to go to the family room with one of the nurses. She was so skinny, and could barely keep her eyes open or move her body. The most shocking thing was how much she – or that experience – reminded me of mum. There I was, two and half years after my mums death, stroking another dying woman’s hair, holding the pink lollipops of water to her mouth and putting Vaseline on her lips. When I walked out of the hospice that day, it was the first time since I’d started volunteering that I questioned my decision. Why I had I put myself in a position where I would be doing that again so soon after seeing my mum die? I was suddenly more aware than ever that I was facing the unavoidable death of someone else that I love and care about. And I had put myself there. Why had I made those choices?
To be honest I’m not entirely sure. But I do know that it was the right choice. And one I don’t regret for one second. It enriched my life in ways that I will probably only now begin to understand, and I know I made a difference to her in the last year of her life too.
The strangest thing about losing someone in this capacity is that it is a totally isolated loss. When I got the call from the hospice, I had no-one to tell. Obviously my friends and family know about my relationship with Mary and would want to know, but there was no-one I could be bereaved with. My relationship with Mary was entirely distinct from all others. It had its own unique definition. It is no surprise then that my first instinct when I found out was to write this blog post. What else am I to do with this feeling?