Monday, 22 June 2009

waiting again.

Once again an ancestor is nearing his end. In fact, my sole surviving male ancestor.
My grandfather has hours or days to live and is in hospital fading. Its life. Its how the cycle ends. A long life with little tragedy and many many descendents. One can't really complain about a life lived long and which gave rise to 4 children, 17 grandchildren and countless great grandchildren.
But its still sad.

He left in the ambulance on Saturday to go to the hospice. I thought that the leaving of one's home for the last time must have a significance, but he barely cast a glance as the doors were closed. Perhaps he was past caring. Or perhaps this significance is one I have in my head and is not shared by all.
Many of the family were present, for support and for their own understandable needs. He must have seen the concern and hopefully realises the affection and regard in which he is held.

To see someone who was once energetic, funny, intelligent, reduced in functionality to a husk which, though still sentient, is too tired or weak to express themselves, is quite tragic and it makes you realise that the accepted functional form of a human is actually quite a fragile state, though we mostly enjoy good health and faculties.

Holding his hand, a man for whom emotion was never a comfortable companion and affection rarely accepted with anything other than an aloof "Oh, Right-o!", i see the wastage that happens with such an illness. My own hand looks almost plump and opulent in comparison and I realise that one day, probably, my hand will look as his, and someone will be holding it in theirs and looking down at me and feeling helpless as to what to say or do.
Imminent death has that creamy, rancid butter smell about it. I am familiar with it now and how it hangs around people near their end. I hadnt realised it was so distinctive. The nurse's "Is that your father? I can see a resemblance!" seemed an odd thing to say given the gaunt state of the poor old chap, but maybe I do need a few more hearty dinners.
"No, he is my grandfather." I reply. "He started very young."
She smiles sympathetically and wanders off with her pillowcase stuffing still in process.
He did start young. He was 35 when I was born. Dark haired, deceptively dopey-seeming but astoundingly pragmatic. His childhood memory of the blitz in one of the more heavily bombed areas of Bristol gave him a stoicism that is evident even now as his strength and capabilities fade.

I don't want to get old. I don't want to die this way: Almost vacant, the object of pity as well as respect. Fading gives times for goodbyes, but how does memory work on the image of the lost loved one? How will we subsequently remember them and be remembered? As we were in our prime or as we were last seen?

But the immobility, the inability to speak or gesture, has struck me like a hammer blow. It is this I take from this most strongly, as a tribute if you like, to my father in his fading, his father, similarly struck down prematurely, and my dear old Granfer now lying in his bed in the hospice.

I have my strength, my limbs, my mind. I have my voice, my hearing and my sight.
And they should be appreciated while they persist. hence, i will dance and sing, and look at the vibrant flowers, smell the honeysuckle and stroke the cheeks of my loved ones. I shall ride my bike and take to the waves. And Every faculty I possess, that I have seen degraded and lost in those who left us, I will rejoice in.

To do less would be a disservice to them and myself.

My thoughts are with you Maurice. Be peaceful.

1 comment:

Librarian said...

You wrote:
"Fading gives times for goodbyes, but how does memory work on the image of the lost loved one? How will we subsequently remember them and be remembered? As we were in our prime or as we were last seen?"

I think for most people, remembering their loved ones works in a retrograde (is that the right term?) way, so that at first you can not get the picture out of your head of how he or she looked when you last saw them, but in time, that image is complemented - maybe even to the point of being replaced - by memories of how they used to be at various other times in their (and your) lives.
When my maternal grandmother (the last one of that generation of my family) died a bit more than 8 years ago, for a long time I remembered how she looked when the ambulance took her to my uncle's house, where she was going to spend her last remaining days (which turned out to be 6 or 7 weeks).
She looked incredibly tiny, like a small bird you want to protect.
A while after her death, I dreamt of her, and thought often of the things we did together when I was a kid.
Now, the last picture I can still conjure up, but I mostly think of her now how I knew her longest: as a very energetic, athletic, fun-loving woman who loved being out seeing people, gardening, swimming and cycling, and did not like housework; someone who loved to sing and dance and had a knack for languages.
If she were still alive, this year she would have been 95.