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Friday, 25 December 2009

A Tribute to a Lady

Last Christmas in the midst of crisis and pain, Coran and I did not have the heart to even put up our tree - we had other things on our minds. This year fortunately was the opposite, and to me at least, brought nothing but joy. I cannot of course speak for Coran, as he needs to speak for himself.

The days leading up to Christmas were sadly marred by the deaths of two residents at work - one an 84 year old man with dementia on Thursday 17th and the other a dearly loved lady, aged 99. She was our longest standing resident, having been in the home, so I was told, for 13 years. I feel privileged to have shared the last seven months of her long and no doubt eventful life with her. I cannot begin to imagine the changes she lived through and witnessed; two world wars, countless smaller ones, a marriage and widowhood, the births of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, the beginnings of communism, the death of communism, several monarchs and US presidents, the sixties, the list is potentially endless. It was sad that she didn't make it for another Christmas (it would have been terrible though had she died on Christmas Day), and even sadder that she did not live to see 100 - she was six months short.

Her slide seemed to be quite rapid in that two weeks ago she was sitting in her wheelchair, happy as Larry, watching us all at work. When I met Lulu I began to understand the meaning of the term "second childhood". Her happiness and her zest for life were infectious, even though she was old and not always well, she was a joy to watch and to spend time with. Watching her eat her lunch was like watching a baby; a big grin would spread across her face as she picked up the food with anything that she had to hand - her cutlery, her napkin and more often than not, her own fingers. More food would end up on her than it did in her mouth, but she enjoyed herself immensely, and we enjoyed watching her. Somehow nobody minded the mess.

I have so many happy memories of this very special lady - I remember how she used to sit in her chair for hours babbling away in a babyish little voice while cuddling her dollies, how she used to talk in more lucid moments about her life with her husband and her own mother, and how much she loved them both. I remember the card from her daughter addressed to "My darling mother"; that was how we all thought of her, as our own darling Lulu (her real name was Louisa, but we called her Lulu or Louie for short). Most of all I remember how when I used to be hoovering in the lounge, her eyes would follow me around the room, and she would look at me and open up her arms, and point to her heart to ask for a kiss and a cuddle and to let us know in her own sweet way that she loved us as much as we all loved her. This wonderful lady has left a huge hole that will be very, very difficult to fill, and although Christmas at the home was good, it somehow wasn't quite the same without her.

I think I knew that she going to die when I went into her room three nights before and found her lying on her side, with her eyes open staring at something invisible. I reached out to touch her arm and offer her some comfort and she turned to look at me and said in her croaky little voice, "I'm tired". I knew that it wasn't physical tiredness she was feeling, but a tiredness for living, that her time was coming to an end. The night that she died I went to see her again, and sat there for a few moments stroking her arm and her hair, talking to her, sometimes out loud and sometimes in my head, and saying to her that if she wished to go, then she should go, and she should not wait around on our behalf. I did the same for my own mother when she passed ten years ago.

In the early hours of Christmas Eve I was in the space between sleep and wakefulness when I had the strangest experience. It was as if I had left my own body and was hovering around her room, watching her sleep. I saw one of the night staff enter her room and press the alarm button, and as I continued to watch, I saw Lulu herself rise out of her body, which lay lifeless on the bed, surrounded in a ball of light, as the silver cord that anchored her soul into the physical form began to separate. Her face appeared in this ball of light, which as I watched began to smile and gradually grew younger and younger until she was back restored to her full health and vigour, surrounded by those that she loved. It was a very touching and privileged experience, so when I went to work later that day and found that her room door was shut, I was not surprised to find that she had passed during the night.

The mood that night was understandably subdued, with most of the staff deeply affected, and many tears were shed, not least of all by myself. There must have been some powerful connection though between the two of us for her to feel that she could show me that and allow me to share the moment of her passing. I would love to have known more about her life, but I don't suppose now that I ever will.

Christmas Day itself was reasonably uneventful, but very busy. It was the first time that I have ever had to work on the day itself and I must admit that a part of me was slightly resentful, especially when one reads of so many who get two weeks off. Christmas is though a time for families, and in many ways, the old folk who I have come to care for so deeply, are now as much a part of my family as my own flesh and blood, whom I see little of.

There was a steady stream of visitors throughout the morning, and I don't think the doorbell stopped ringing. Some stayed for a short while, bringing gifts and Christmas wishes for their loved ones, some stayed for the whole day, including a three course Christmas lunch, which I was told was delicious. It was lovely to walk into one lady's room and find three generations all together, her daughter and son in law, with her granddaughter and her new husband. It was also nice to share a cuddle with one of their son's, such a lovely man, and to finally meet another lady's son, who she has told me so much about. He travels a lot with his work and can't get to see her that often, and I know she misses him.

Despite the extra work, somehow it did all get done, and I managed to finish just after 2pm, as usual and get home for my own celebrations. It was nice to spend time with Coran watching telly and cooking a simple dinner together. There was another cause for celebration too, as I found that two of the soft pigs that I collect had had babies during the night (bought from the National Trust centre a few days ago). Our main meal will be at lunch time today - I will be cooking a root vegetable roast with fruity Cumberland sauce, which we will have with roast potatoes, roasted red onions, carrots, peas, and cauliflower cheese, with Christmas pudding and custard for afters.

Later on, we hope to go and see Avatar, and we are both fans of James Cameron's work, and then it will be back to work as usual tomorrow, before it all starts again.

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