Death’s waiting room

Today I will go to look at a nursing home in Parkdale with
my older sister.  This nursing home is one recommended by a woman they call the Discharge Planner who works at the Dandenong hospital and
takes responsibility for helping folks like us to find a last home for our ageing parent. 
My image of a nursing home is one of urine smelling wards
filled with rows of single beds and each occupied by a bedridden and sunken body, almost unrecognisable as the person who once occupied that space. 
Nursing homes are not supposed to be as bad these days but I shall soon find out.  
Once upon a time people died at home in the care of their
loved ones.  But that’s not so easy these
days.  All mum’s loved ones, not including those estranged, and scattered as
we are throughout Australia, work at jobs, have children and other responsibilities.  Not one of us could/would take off time to sit with her full time.  Besides her nursing care needs are too great for the unskilled.
I have tried to imagine what my mother’s death might be like
were she left alone to die.
We had a cat once. We named her Tilly, a black and white
moggie with a sour disposition.  We
collected Tilly from the RSPCA when our oldest daughter was seven years old.  We figured Tilly must have been a cat abandoned at birth or otherwise ill-treated
because of her apparent unhappiness.  She
whined a lot. 
In retrospect, I recognise that the policy we put in place in
those days, a policy that says animals belong out of doors, did not help.  Once she had acclimatised to our house, Tilly lived
out of doors, at least during the day. 
By night she could come inside.  She
could not be trusted around the local possums and other creatures of the suburbs. 
Tilly did not like this. Day and night, she wanted to spend within
the best rooms of the house, the least cluttered, the most comfortable, like my
consulting room.  
If I found that she had
snuck into this room when I was not looking I scolded her and sent her back down
the corridor to take up residence elsewhere, but she kept coming back. 
For years and even more so with the arrival of our second
cat, Pickles, Tilly kept up her miserable whining day and night.  In between sleeping.  Until one day she disappeared.  
My brother found her on a visit.   She had slunk off to the verandah, under the
boards, hidden from view where she had died. 
She died alone.  We buried her in
our back garden, her shroud a disposable shopping bag because we could not fit
her rigid frame into a shoe box.
People do not die the way we see them die in the
movies.  In the movies it usually happens
fast.  There is a breathless crescendo,
an attempt to utter a few closing words, and then boom, they’re gone. 
The idea of a grim reaper who carries a person off in one swoop, or a black car that arrives at your doorstep ready to collect you,
these are all fantasies.  
Unless and except
in cases of horrible accident, mishap or heart attack, stroke and the like,
death tends to come slowly, incrementally. 
Little by little death sneaks up on a person, and slowly but surely it
becomes obvious that the person who is dying begins to withdraw all energy from
the world around her. 
My mother wants now to do nothing but sleep.  She refuses food.  She is restless in her legs from time to time
but otherwise she lies still, eyes closed, out of it, ready to move into death’s waiting room.   

5 thoughts on “Death’s waiting room”

  1. So sad, and yet to very true. Both of my parents died in a nursing home, but neither died alone.

    Best wishes as you make plans for your mom.

    blessings and Bear hugs!

  2. I have only seen two people die, my mother and my ex-mother-in-law. The first death was unexpected; the second was not. Actually my ex-mother-in-law was the first to die. She died in hospital surrounded by—and attended to since two of her daughters were nurses—her family. I knew when I drove my now ex-wife there I was going to witness a death. The poet in me was excited but then he doesn’t much care about anyone or anything as long as he can wring a poem out of the moment; he’s a bit of a bastard that way. The rest of me was occupied with being dutiful and doing what was expected. With my mother I knew she was sick but never realised how sick. Looking back I should’ve ignored her insistence that we not call a doctor—my mum had a life-long fear of doctors—but that’s easy to say now. I believe I saw her take her last breath—for some odd reason it matters to me that I can say that even though I didn’t realise it was her last breath—and it was like a startled gasp. And that was it. By the time Carrie realised she wasn’t breathing I was on the phone but we’d left it too late and the paramedics when they arrived—very promptly I have to say—could do nothing to bring her back. She had cancer and was facing a protracted and painful end; to see her die quickly like this—it turned out she had pneumonia—was a blessing for all concerned. She didn’t fear death. She found comfort in her beliefs. As far as she was concerned she was just going to close her eyes and the next moment she’d be alive again and she’d know that she’d been right, right up until death, faithful until the end.

    Carrie’s dad’s not well. It’s no great surprise to see him go downhill so quickly after his wife’s death but it’s still sad to see. He’s just been admitted to hospital with pneumonia but pulled through. He’s got plenty of other things wrong with him and any one of them could finish him off. His doctor told his son just to let him eat what he wants. He’s had to watch his diet for the last few years but what’s the point dying miserable? My mother was the same at the end. She lived off microwave chips. They’re talking about hospice care for Carrie’s dad but he’s resistant. No ninety-year-old is daft enough to imagine he’s got many years ahead of him but as far as he’s concerned moving out of his home is giving up the fight and admitting that he’s dying. There’s a world of difference between knowing and admitting.

  3. I have so much I could add to this post, Elisabeth. We are going through this exact process with my husband at this moment. He is comfortable in his own bed, his needs are seen to by people devoted to him and his dearest friends come and sit with him as they feel the need. His life will end, as he lived it, with dignity and love.
    A small part of me wonders if I will be as fortunate.
    Regards, Karen C

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