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Monday, 26 March 2012


It is an undeniable fact, that when you work in a nursing home as I do, at some point you are going to encounter death. During the 2 years and 11 months that I have spent working in the industry, I have encountered it 29 times, the latest being this weekend. You would have thought by now that I would have found a way to cope with it, and to some extent I have.

When I first started work here, back in May 2009, I used to get very upset each time it happened, but as the months and the years have gone by, I find that it affects me less and less. I am not always sure that this is a good thing. The extent to which it affects me seems to vary enormously depending on how close I was to the deceased.

It is inevitable in an environment such as this that you will form emotional attachments to the residents, as when you spend such a large amount of what could be considered quite intimate time with them,  even a housekeeper such as myself. Thus it is that I find myself today mourning the loss of the latest one - a lady whom I shall refer to as Mrs B.

Mrs B it has to be said lived life very much to the full. She was a large lady in more ways than one - with a huge heart and a bulk to match. She did not enjoy the best of health, but we did our best to make her as comfortable and happy as we could, and I like to think that we did a pretty good job.

Mrs B was a hairdresser by trade, and I suspect that this was the reason for her badly misshapen hands, that looked as if she were still holding a pair of scissors. Because of this she has trouble turning the pages of books, and doing many of the little things that we take for granted, but she accepted these limitations with good grace, looking forward to regular visits from her four devoted sons.

As we all do, she had her dark days, when she used to sit and think back to happier times with her beloved husband and dogs. When she got like this, I used to sit and reassure her, and we often pondered together on the meaning of life. Barely one month before she died, we had a conversation as to whether she believed in the afterlife, and whether when she passed over, she believed that would see her darling husband again, and she told me that she did. I like to think then that she is back with him now, happy and free from pain, with a big smile on her face.

She did have happy times as well, during the four years that she spent at the home, happy times chatting with friends, with a glass of white wine. She soent hours regailing me with stories about her parents and her grandchildren and the funny little things that they used to say, but when she was truly happy, she loved to sing, and the sound of her voice would resonate throughout the house.

Like many elderly ladies of her age (she celebrated her 90th birthday just before Christmas), she did not enjoy the best of health. Us housekeepers are not told all the details, since we do not really need to know, but for the past year she had been repeatedly saying that she felt unwell. The Doctors were called many times, but most of the aches and pains from what I gather, were put down to old age.

When I went to Lundy at the beginning of March, she seemed her usual self, but when I returned 12 days later, I was told that she had developed a chest infection and had taken to her bed. She did not recover and passed away peacefully during the morning of Saturday March 24th.

Looking back on that conversation that Mrs B and I had, barely one month ago, I think she was preparing herself for death even then, as then the end came, it came relatively quickly. Her son remained at her bedside during most of last week, as did his brothers, when they were able to visit and their own children too, so she died peacefully and in the company of those we loved. In the end  I suppose that is all that we can ask for.

When I left work on Friday at 2pm, I had a feeling that I would not see her again, so I said my mental goodbyes and was not surprised to come in this morning after a weekend off, and be given the news. I was promptly given the job of bagging up all her belongings, something I had not done before.

Going into her room, what had been her sacred space, felt like almost an intrusion, even though her prescence could no longer be felt. The speed with which this had to be done seemed disrespectful in some ways, but I had been informed that I had to do this, as her family will be coming tomorrow to collect her effects, and so it had to be done. It left me feeling quite tearful and upset, but when I stopped to think about it, it was the universe's way of providing me with the opportunity to say my own final goodbye, for in the process of bagging up all those belongings, with each photograph and each item of jewellery I placed in the bags and boxes, I was letting her go.

The grieving process for me usually takes a day or so, after which things slowly settle back into a normal routine and I am sure that this will be no exception. The hard part is always seeing the family afterwards and saying goodbye to them, for you become as attached to them as you do the person who had died, but my thoughts are with them at this difficult time.

RIP Mrs B.     

Friday, 16 March 2012

The countdown begins

It is hard to believe that this time last week I was back in the cottage on Lundy, having got out of the shower (and of course bed), ready to start clearing up for the next incumbent. It is a tradition for me to leave the cottage as clean and tidy as I found it, which means cleaning the kitchen and bathroom, emptying bins and stripping down the bed - pity I am not so tidy in my own house, but then again, I do clean other people's rooms for a living.

Since I returned to work on Monday, I have done my best not to get stressed with all the mind talk and chatter that inevitably comes with the material, 3D world. Sometimes it is hard to be part of the world, but not quite part of it - I guess though this comes with the territory of a spiritual existence, which is why a retreat like Lundy does me so much good. There was a reason why I used to go there three times a year, every four months - in order to top up the batteries ready for the next onslaught of 3D existence, now I am quite literally back in the fray, working alongside those who outwardly at least are not spiritual at all, these regular retreats have become even more important. Sadly though, the funds are just not there to make it happen, at least not without making other sacrifices, and there are only so may that you can make.

After three years in the same job without a pay rise, if one is not forthcoming this year, I might have to seriously consider moving on. At least it looks as if we may have a new Editor for the village newsletter that I edit though. We have been searching for almost four months now, and then all of a sudden, like busses two enquiries came along at once - both are from ladies who live around the Hill - one is retired and married to a former journalist, while the other works part time as a Medcial Secretary. I think what swayed it for her was the article I wrote in the last issue stating that anyone who had worked as a Secretary would have the skills to do this job. That is probably true, as most people I have found can write - the difficult part comes from doing it in the right way and knowing what questions to ask, but if you know anything about people, then this too comes naturally. As for the desk side of the job - like I said, if you have worked as a sectetary then you will have the necessary skills - what we need is a touch typist, someone who knows their way around MS Office (Internet, E-mail, Word etc) and knows basic photo editing software. Like I said, anyone who works as a secretary has these skills.

As we get closer to the Olympics, it it though more and more important that a new Editor is found, as it is not that long to the Olympic special - the copy deadline is May 15th, which is only 2 months away, and after that I shall be retiring. So you see, time is of the essence, and the sooner one of these two ladies makes a committment the better. There will be a long break of three months over the summer months for them to acclimatise to the role and get to know people around the Hill, and of course the other local press, as the next issue will not be until September, but once I have gone there will be only so much support I can give. This role is unpaid, so I have to concentrate on the one that brings money in - my paid job at the nursing home. I will miss being Editor, and the rest of the team, but after five years, my time is done, and it really is time to move on.

Today though is a day off, before I go back to work for a seven day stretch (and it will be stretched as our Kitchen Assistant is on holiday, which means being the only housekeeper on duty for a few days and helping out inexperienced staff who do not normally work in the Kitchen and will be covering for him). For the moment though, the hairdresser is due around 9.30am and Coran will be off to the weekly computer club where she volunteers, so the rest of the day is mine to do with as I will. I think a trip to Polesden Lacey to sit in the sun (or perhaps the car) might be in order, depending on what the weather brings. When it comes to 11am I will think wistfully back though to that magical island that I left behind at Hartland Point exactly one week ago.     

Sunday, 11 March 2012

A return to mainland living

At the beginning of this year I decided that my New Year Resolution would be to write considerably more on this blog, but here we are three months into the New Year with barely more than a few posts. All those good intentions went straight out of th window, swallowed as usual by the day to day routine of going to work, cooking, eating and sleeping, for that is pretty much the routine that I settled into over the long, dark winter months. Now that winter is coming to an end, the light is beginning to return into my life in more ways than one. There is a spring in my step as I begin to unwake from what has seemed at times like a hibernation, except of course that unlike the animal kingdom that has a lot more sense than we do, we do not go to sleep during those cold, dark times, but work even harder than during the long summer nights. I sometimes think that the animals have a lot more sense than we do.

But, spring is most definately in the air, despite the continued cold, and boy was it cold, during my recent sojourn on the beautiful island of Lundy. The island for those who do not know, or are not familar with this blog, is situated in the Bristol Channel, that body of water that seperates the Welsh and North Devon coasts, the nearest landfall to the west side being North America. As such, the island is whipped frequently from all four quarters by the ferocious Atlantic winds.

Some would say that I am mad to even contemplate going to such a place, but they are safe and sound for the most part tucked up in their padded cells. I jest. It takes all sorts to make this world, and if they are happier to bake themselves to a crisp along with hundreds of others on some southern European beach and get drunk with their friends, then that means there is all the more of Lundy for me to enjoy.

Lundy is one of those places where the stillness and the silence just hits you seeping slowly into your consciousness, until there is nothing left, nothing that it except yourself, for that is the gift that the island brings, the gift to know that although you may be alone, you are never truly alone in the company of nature. The sound of the sea and the birds as they wheel through the air is all encompassing, as you walk surrounded by nature on all sides - the green, or at this time of year, brown of the island surrounded by blue, blue sea and the smooth rocks below, a playground for the terrestrial animals that inhabit the island. Lundy gives me the opportunity to completely relax, away from the trappings of modern life for a week, or maybe two, and be busy doing absolutely nothing.

I returned from the island on Friday, on the helicopter via Hartland Point, and already it seems like a lifetime ago. During the 17 years that I have spent visitng the island, and I have been many times, I have pondered many times on the significance of this very special place, and the hold that it appears to have in my heart. It represents so much - but most of all the freedom to be truly be myself. There is wonderful sense of freedom and openness that the island brings, to stand on the highest ppint with the wind streaming through my hair and to feel the salt sea spray on my lips stinging my skin is such an experience that you cannot describe. Descriptions as always lessen the intensity. One has to go to the island to experience it for oneself.

The irony is that this haven, this sanctuary, this unique way of life could not exist were it not for mainland life, for the islanders depend on the mainland for everything - the pilots who fly the helicopters and the Captain of the island's boat are the islands lifeline, keeping them fed, watered and clothed and ensuirng their survival. Without these services, none of it would be possible, so to those men and women, I am eternally grateful.

I am also eternally grateful to my own employers, for giving me the means to escape to this sanctuary when I feel the need, and providing me with the time in which to do so. The last week went by as always in a whirl, and it seems no time at all since I was driving down the M5 towards Hartland and the North Devon coast to make my way to another week of adventures. Is this though the real world, and my real life, I wish that it were so, but I know that it it not - time spent on Lundy, as in other holidays can only ever be a respite, and I am grateful that it is so, for it is the knowledge of that limitation that makes it all the more precious, and gives it all the more meaning. So, when I return to work tomorrow I will not be sad, but grateful for every precious minute that I spent on that wondrous piece of granite, and I shall be counting down the days until the next trip to the Isles of Scilly in June.