Friday, July 06, 2007


August Bank holiday weekend 2006

It’s very early in the morning, about 5.30. I’m sitting with Joy. We’ve come to the end almost, but she is strong-hearted; she’s hanging on like a real trouper. She hasn’t had any real food for 2 weeks now, since the stroke, and only a few sucks of water through a sponge on a stick in the last few days. She has been sleeping through most of the day but is pretty restless all night. Her daughter and I are spending the nights with her; we feel that she shouldn’t be left alone at this stage, and she really does need some reassurance during the night. It’s hard, watching her struggle…a bit like Lilly, my mother-in-law, and that was hard. So I’m sitting now, in the darkened room, just a tiny lamp going, with my coffee. The house is full of family.

The day I returned to work Joy had had a stroke; she’d slept all that day as I took over from Fi, but woke and spoke a couple of times, so we thought it was just minor and that she would recover. She did, to some extent, but gradually began to fade. The doctor was there every day – he was such a star; he lived nearby and used to pop in on his way home or back to the hospital. Those first few days I had Joy up and sitting in her chair, but it was a real effort; she’s little but dense in weight. It became apparent that the stroke was debilitating and more serious that we had thought, so she stayed in bed – Joy loved her bed and that was no hardship for her. The daughter of the house arrived and we shared the nursing. In the first week we tried to feed Joy up as much as we could, with fortified drinks and beef soup. But by the end of that week she was barely taking a few sips; the doctor told us just to give her little drinks of water and to clean her mouth with the sponge-on-a-stick.

‘Thank you darling,’ whispers from Joy; she was clinging on to life. Everyone had to return to work so there was only me, her daughter and Middle Son left. She slept most of the day but was awake quite a lot of the night, waving her hands in the air, trying to catch something but we couldn’t find out what. The doctor said that it was the effect of dehydration on her system; her body was shutting down. At night Daughter and I took turns to stay with Joy: during the day we cleaned out cupboards. When everyone was there at bank holiday weekend, we had such fun looking at photographic discoveries – they, trying to work out who was who. There were a lot of tears too; this was a very loving and caring family, much the best I’ve ever worked with.

On the first day of September Joy’s breathing began to alter its rhythm; she’d been lightly sedated the night before, and was breathing heavily. The three of us were working all over the house, looking in on her all the time. I called when I heard the change – I’d been through this before and knew what would happen. We sat on the bed, around her as everything slowed down. I remembered watching Lily taking fewer breaths and all of us counting, waiting for the next, and the one that would never come. Joy stopped breathing several times and we thought she had gone, then she’d heave another and we’d laugh.

‘You go girl,’ I said to her. Daughter could only nod; she felt disgusted with herself that she couldn’t speak, and Son was ever stoical and correct while we blew our noses with the tissues I'd snatched from the window sill. Then there were no more last breaths. She was gone and we were glad she’d made it.


The hiss and hum of the airbed
fills the room. Joan shifts around -
dying is a knackering business.

Breathing is difficult; just when you think it’s over
another phase moves in, for an hour
or two, then life returns.

I want to scream
Go Joan go…get the hell outta here…
fly on the last gasp of summer

Hours roll into days, and they pass.
The family gathers memories, giggling
at naked babies and ancient greats in old sepia.

We ply doctor and nurses with questions
they can’t answer; we want timetables -
definite possibilities.

Why am I still here?’ she whispers
as starvation settles into the bed.
Her heart carries on, regardless.

Check-in is now closed.
We count the spaces between breaths.
Time of departure N/A

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