It is amazing how someone knows when he or she is dying.
A few weeks ago, my Nan’s legs were so swollen with oedema she bluntly announced she knew she was dying to me one day when I visited her.
“We have to face facts Debbie. I can’t go on forever and I’ve had enough. My time is up. I want you to take the victorian plate and the three handled mug from in my glass cabinet and take them to the Rural Museum.”
By pure co-incidence, the following week I was going for my second trip to Glastonbury-Nan’s hometown, this time taking my two boys. I have spent most of the last few months collating family history and annotating Nan’s memories of her life as a girl growing up between the wars in Glastonbury. Nan became so animated as she gave me her life’s review, telling her stories and sharing her knowledge of the town.
I smile as I recall the time that my Nan queued for nearly three hours when the Antiques Road show visited Leeds many years ago to show them her artefacts. She was disgusted to learn the plate was only worth twenty-five pounds and the mug just twenty or so. “All that time I queued to hear that load of rubbish! Humph! He doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” I suspect she gave the valuer a flea in his ear too. She never did appear on the Sunday night programme.
Whatever the intrinsic value, the historic appeal was obvious and the Rural Museum seemed thrilled with her donation. It is in the right place I am sure.
After I came back from Glastonbury, there were only a couple of weeks until her 90th Birthday celebrations. The oedema was advancing up her legs but Nan still stubbornly refused the doctor and district nurses attempts to get her into a home or hospital. “I’m not going anywhere until at least after my birthday!”
We invited nearly thirty people to her party at the community centre of the sheltered complex where she lives. Only eleven of her old dears turned up along with hubby, boys and me. Not even the promise of a free tea could persuade some of them to forgive her cantankerous and sometimes tyrannical ways over the years. However, the people who mattered were there and she had a marvellous time.
Unbeknown to her, for our present to her, I had booked a couple to come, sing, and play the piano to her. I requested her favourites-‘Jerusalem,’ or the ‘Glastonbury Hymn’ as some know it and ‘You’ll never walk alone.’ In between, they had a good old singsong to wartime and Gershwin classics and her old friends went home laden with doggy bags.
For Nan, two hours of singing and snoozing exertions proved almost too much. We were due to go to Antigua just three days later.
“How long are you going for?” She asked as I settled her back in her own bungalow afterwards.
“Only a week Nan-we’ll be back before you know it.”
“Oh, thank god.”
I rang her doctor to ask his advice as to whether I should go and checked the insurance details if the worst should happen.
“In my opinion, medically, she is not on her ‘last legs’ yet so I should go. She will have made her own decisions on when she wants to go anywhere and nothing any of us say will change that. My biggest concern is that she won’t go into hospital or a home but she is the most stubborn, difficult lady I have ever known and we can’t make her go.” Tell me about it.
I rang her from Antigua. She sounded frail and a little confused. “Are you home now?” She asked eagerly.
“No darling-just another two days-I’ll soon be there.”
“Only I’ve decided to go into respite care,” she interrupted. “I’m only going in for two weeks but I’ve told them I’m not going anywhere until you get home from holiday.”
What a relief to think she would have some proper care at last. This was what she should have had for over a year now since I gave up being her primary carer. I secretly hoped that maybe once she was in a nursing home she might find she quite enjoyed the care and company. But then again...I remembered her words a few weeks ago that once she went into hospital or a home she knew she would not come out.
The family and I travelled back from the Caribbean on Saturday evening/Sunday and as soon as I plugged my phone in the charger, I found the messages from my uncle to say she was in hospital. Half an hour home and the hospital rang to say she had deteriorated rapidly. They wanted to impress how poorly she was and advised I could visit her anytime. I left hubby and boys to unpack the cases and went straight to the hospital.
Nans eventually recognised me and then immediately proceeded to work through her wishes-Different to a few weeks ago, this time, adding personal details of her funeral arrangements such as where to scatter the ashes.
“For an extra two guineas you can make sure I’m cremated by myself-I don’t want to be burnt with other people-you don’t know whose ashes you’re getting!”
She’s a sharp one my Nan.
“Tell the boys I will be looking down on them and making sure they are ok. I’m so proud of them...and if you need me you just look up and say ‘Mam-what do I do?’ and I’ll help you. I’ll always be there for you.”
I thought she was invincible. Three heart attacks, two strokes, pacemaker fitted, five major operations...She had a will of steel, my Teflon Nan....my Mam.
For a couple of hours she went through room by room, cupboard by cupboard and told me specific instructions on what do with everything...her bedroom furniture, her clothes, her curtains...even her kettle and her tinned food.
“I told you I knew this was the end for me and I needed to sort it all. Does Dr Wright know I’m going? He’s so lovely, he’ll want to know. And the Vicar-you must tell the Vicar.”
I told her “Don’t worry-I’ll take care of everything.”
That is the way it has always been with my Nan and me. This time I did not mind. I knew she needed to have everything in order... before...
Her final words to me were-“Can you stop stroking my hand please. I can’t go anywhere while you’re stroking my hand.”
That made me smile.
“Do you want me to leave?” I asked, not sure whether to leave her or not. What if?...
“Yes please. I came into this world alone and I shall leave alone.”
Some of you may know what she is quoting. I think I may have heard it before. Or maybe it was Nans own saying?
She was not alone when she came into the world. She was with her mother. I wanted to be with my ‘mother.’ Despite everything over the last, however many years, that was what she was to me, and without her my life would have been so very different.
However, she had sorted all her arrangements and wishes. In her head, the contents of her cupboards and her belonging already had new owners. She had ticked all the boxes on the checklist and could get some proper rest now.
I was only home for an hour and a half and the Hospital rang me. They said not to rush back but she was very, very poorly. I did not make it back to the hospital in time-she had already gone by the time I got there. The nursing staff told me that she wanted to be alone. She asked them for some fresh water and by the time they returned, she had gone.
She had it all planned. In control until the end eh? How was it she knew that she was dying?...You hear so many tales of people that leave the world like this, without any worries and everything organised.
Until another day...
Notable Chicago: 4/20–4/26
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