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?
7 thoughts on “Farewell Mary”
Glad you wrote this, Annie. I was so impressed with hearing you speak at Death Salon: the hospice is fortunate you’re a volunteer. You’re helping spread knowledge and break taboos around loss and bereavement. All best wishes, Karen
Thank you so much Karen. That means a lot.
It sounds banal to say I am sorry for the loss of Mary when I don’t know her and I don’t know you … but nonetheless it is my response on reading your post.
Where to channel the feelings of bereavement – that is a very interesting point. The finality of the loss of Mary which brings all the grief for your mum surging back again, means that you have all this emotion (for want of a better word) to give and share… and nowhere to put it. First of all, you have to be kind to the most important person in all this – and that is yourself. You cannot give out to others until you reach a place where you are ready to do it. Thus, look for what will support and nurture you until such time as you feel ready to spread your wings again. As a writer, words will probably be the greatest tool in your armoury…. Best wishes, Andrea
I am a volunteer with Marie Curie, and I went through the death of my first client a few months ago, after only an 8 week journey, so I completely understand your sentiments. My client had very little support from her two sons, as they were both in denial and also in the stage precipatory grief, and feeling some anger towards her at her imminent departure, so she was very isolated. I became the one she could confide in, the one she didn’t have to protect. I think the fact that we had no history together was one of the most important things about our relationship. She could be who she wanted with me. The fact I was a volunteer and received no payment for my increasingly extended visits, although at first very difficult for her to accept, in the end became a validation of her as a human being deserving of love. I was there because I genuinely cared about her in all her facets – she didn’t have to do anything or be anyone other than who she was, and I would still want to see her. I was in fact the last friend / family to see her a few hours before she died. She smoked her last cigarette and ate her last meal, and received her last hug… all with me. Although I cried the next day when I found out she had died – during her first night in hospice – I felt consoled by the fact that I had been able to make some small difference to her last weeks of life.
Thank you Caro. What a journey you went on with your patient. It’s good to hear other people’s experiences.
So beautifully written Annie, I also felt sadness reading of the passing of Mary. Your compassion, sensitivity and strength is something you can be so very proud of. I do understand when you say you felt alone in your grieving for Mary, I have been there through my work, it is a hard place to be. Writing the blog was a great idea sharing with us your thoughts and feelings. Take solace in the fact that made a beautiful difference in the passing of Mary. Give it time Annie be proud.
All The Best Jan
Thank you so much Jan.