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.