Caroline Shipsey

Thursday, 20 September 2007

A very special lady

Eileen Parker, aged 95 years and 11 months, lies in her bed at the nursing home. The sheet covering her has a few wrinkles in it, each wrinkle defines part of her tiny body, a leg, an arm. Her shoulders are bare, her nightdress reveals the detail of the joints and I can hardly bear to look, it frightens me to see this. Her skin is so thin I can see every vein in her hands and arms, purple blotches cover her body. She needs oxygen constantly and even with it her chest heaves as she takes a breath. She is so weak that just opening her eyes seems to take what strength she has, but, then a smile lights up the room as she recognizes me and she clearly says "Hello my love" this is the longest sentence she has spoken for several weeks now.

If death is cruel then the act of dying is even more so, it has been happening before my eyes for the past 12 months, I have witnessed the finest details of life being lost. At Christmastime the hand not strong enough to hold a pen and write cards as in previous years, the same hand now finding the weight of a cup too much to hold to her lips. Receding gums rendering dentures too big - but she is so weak that any remedial treatment is just too much effort. Spectacles bruise the fragile face. Clothes tear the skin as she is dressed, not through any rough treatment but because she is so very, very frail. Despite all this she is still clinging on to life, I wish I knew why, I wonder if there is some special particular 'thing' that needs to happen before she can just remain peacefully asleep. If there is, then I wish she could tell me, but at this stage of her life questions often cause distress, so I do not ask I just search her face for an answer.

This process is hard enough to observe in an elderly person, so my heart goes out to anyone with a loved one whose life should have been longer but is seeing the life go from them at age 30, 40, 50 - whatever age it is never long enough.

Each time I visit I wonder if it will be the last, everytime the phone rings is it the call that will bring me the news of her passing, and yet she fights on - a very special lady is my dear Mum.