So Much Death, So Little Time

This morning at 10.13 my mum called to tell me that my sister’s husband, my brother in law has passed away. I wasn’t especially close to him. They have lived in London for the past 25 years or so, so we have never really had a chance to get to know one another well. So why then do I feel so broken right now? Why am I who is so many miles away feeling that loss so keenly? Is it because my beloved sister has been robbed of her life partner by a dreadful disease that ate away ate her husband for years, that her two teenaged children are now fatherless. He was an incredible father, always having time to spend with his kids at the end of every working day. As they say it is quality time over quantity time any day.
I think I am feeling so sad at this moment because it is only mid March and already this year a handful of people amongst my friends and family have passed away. In January alone we buried two friends a week apart. One older, one my age, no time to mourn the loss of the one before the second dropped dead from a heart attack. At least his wife was with him at the time, in fact neither of the two died alone, both had the comfort of their wives with them.
I am feeling horribly mortal at the moment. Death is so final in our daily lives. You may believe in an afterlife, a place where spirits roam free and are happy to have shuffled off this mortal coil but that doesn’t leave the rest of us left behind with much comfort. We may be relieved that those who have suffered in pain have passed on and are now free of that burden. We may be relieved that they are no longer a burden to us, the hospital visits, Hospice, funerals, all of that behind us. Rituals that are meant to comfort us after their passing but do they? Does that wake give you closure? Does the sound of soil hitting a coffin make it easier to cope with the lost of a mother, father, husband or child.
The comforting arms of friends and family are there for you in the immediate aftermath but what happens once the dust has settled and they have all returned to their lives, a week or two weeks later. The calls stop coming, the food stops arriving and you are left to your own devices. Attempting to pick up the pieces of your shattered life and move on. How do you move on? Do you pack up their stuff and donate it to a charity organization? Do you leave it in the cupboard for months after so that you can hug their clothing and remember their smell. Do you hold onto a favourite jersey and hug it like a pillow at night whilst you sob your heart out because you miss them and you are actually inconsolable?

Or do you light a candle, paint a picture, put a photobook together and remember the good times?
If the person you loved was ill and suffered greatly before passing on, it takes a long time before you can remember the person they were before they got ill. At first all you remember is the hospital, the smells, the sadness, the fact that they looked gray or they looked yellow, or just sallow, the funeral, the medicine, the doctors, the sadness that wells up in you every time you think of them. Months and years can pass before you can remember the love, the sense of humour they had, the good times that you shared. It takes a long time to make peace with their passing. I know they say that you expect the elderly to die, it doesn’t make it any easier though. It becomes harder and harder as time passes to remember their faces, their laughs, their smiles.
You do eventually. Eventually you learn to smile again, you can talk about them without crying, you can laugh at anecdotes about them, their little idiosyncrasies, their silly jokes. You learn it is okay to laugh, it is okay to be happy, to pack their stuff away or put it in boxes in the storeroom. Life is okay to go on with.
You need to forgive yourself for life carrying on, for living whilst they have passed on, for being happy when you have no idea if they are happy any more. It is okay, life goes on and for that, though it is hard to believe at the time, life does go on. It doesn’t stop because the person you loved has passed on. Cows still need to be milked and accounts still need to be paid and it isn’t fair. The whole world isn’t mourning and the whole world didn’t stop because you wanted to get off. Life goes on and IT IS OKAY. In fact it is a blessing because you begin over time to forget, you move on and it is okay. It is okay to move on. To fall in love again. To feel again. You can forgive yourself because it is okay.

Death unless you are a medium is final. So remember to make your peace every day, kiss them, hug them, tell them you love them because one day it is too late and you never said those words, returned that book or sent that message. Life really is too short for regrets so on their deathbeds if you are lucky enough to get the chance to say goodbye then do it. Tell that person that it is okay to die, to move on, tell them that you will be okay, that you will go on and that you love them. The soul hears.

To all those that have passed on before me you are loved, you are missed, you are remembered, you will never be forgotten and I will be okay without you one day.
I am okay without you.
I am okay.

Rest in peace…… and quiet

your heart is beating wildly in your chest, you can’t breathe properly, you can’t get warm. Three blankets and a 47 kilo dog on top of you are just not doing the job. Then suddenly you are so hot that  the dog gets booted off your chest, the blankets hit the floor and you use your toe to nudge your thick hiking socks off your feet.  You’re dying! You’re positive you’re dying! It is not possible to feel this bad and still be alive, it’s time to phone a friend. Help! I need to get to casualty, I’m dying you say. All the time you are thinking please hurry I really don’t want to die alone at home………….who will feed the dog?

Your knight in shining armor arrives and drives you to the door of Casualty while he heads off to park his trusty petrol stead. You amble your way in through the door past the tired looking security guard who merely looks at you and cocks his head in the direction of Casualty. Just as well you know the way, you’ve been here before to bring in a friend with malaria.  After walking 900 miles of corridor you stumble upon the reception desk (wo)manned by 3 somewhat bulky nurses who look at you blankly, apparently mystified at your arrival, it is after all 21h30 at night. I’m dying you mumble as you bang your head down onto the reception counter. The nurses continue to look at you with glazed expressions on their faces. Where is the sense of urgency here, don’t they realize I’m dying you think to yourself. Eventually one discovers the gift of speech, can we help you, she says. Yes please, I’m dying you say. Still no sense of urgency. The consultation will cost you anything from R550 upwards she says, they appear to want the money before they will help too prevent your  imminent death.

I leave my knight in shining armor to fill in forms and get lead into the consultation room, all I want to do is fall onto the very high gurney but the nurse says boots off, jacket off, jersey off. Enough already I can barely stand, I am dying after all y0u say. Finally a doctor comes in, thank you, thank you thank , whisper to the gods above. Doctor I’m dying, I have never felt so bad in my entire life, I’m hot, I’m cold, my body aches all over, I am nauseous, my throat is sore and my heart is beating up a storm in my chest. Sounds like flu she says, you’ll live and  proceeds to shove a needle in your arm. You now have a drip attached with blessed pain killers to reduce the aches in your body, relief is almost instant. They take enough blood to resuscitate a starving vampire. Your bp starts to drop your heart is no longer playing the drums in your chest and your temperature is starting to come down from 39.3 degrees. Y0u’re being booked in for the next few nights, you have bronchial pneumonia.

The doctor herself pushes you up to the ward, where are the  porters, the orderlies, the nurses. Maybe you have seen too many Hollywood productions ER was never like this and where hell is George Clooney when you need him. She hands you over to the kind of waiting nurse, relief you think, now maybe I can get some sleep and start to feel better but you are wrong because the fun is only just beginning.

You’ve lost count of how many times they have asked if you are allergic to anything, the nurse brings along the blood pressure machine to take another reading. The machine sounds like it is from the dark ages as it cranks up. Does no one know how to do manual BP readings anymore? It is almost 11pm by  now. You have sent your knight in shining armor home, some one needs to dog-sit The ward is still brightly lit. Only 3 of the 6 beds are occupied you will fill the fourth.

Imagine the 3 Stooges arriving at your bedside with an ECG machine, the doctor on call has requested your heart gets checked. All these three trained professionals have to do is apply the 12 odd pads to  the skin on your chest and abdomen, connect the plugs to the pads, press start and voila the machine will do the rest. Alas the machine can only do this if it is connected up properly so Moe, Larry and Curly spent the next 20 minutes re-arranging the plugs and printing out results that reflected exactly how you were feeling at the time………..dead. Flat-lined. Caput. Of course you would think that the Sister in Charge would come charging to the rescue and put the plus in the right place, except that she didn’t appear to know which plugs go with which pads either………..this scene is best imagined in black and white, in keeping with Moe, Larry and Curly, that way you won’t notice that the plugs are colour coded and labeled R and L. Finally the 4 Stooges manage to determine that you are alive with a regular heartbeat and they toddle off and then of course the nurse with the paperwork arrives. Forms. No I don’t suffer from an entire list if illnesses that I have never heard of. Midnight.

The doctor on call has just been to see you, listened to your chest,  your chest hasn’t had this much attention since you first grew boobs at 14. Bronchitis he says, possible pneumonia. You need to stay here for a couple of nights to recover, massive doses of anti-biotics and you will be fine, the cough will last about a week he says. He is an older guy, a little portly, smelling of smokes and Old Spice, he makes you feel a lot happier about how lousy you are feeling. Already you are feeling better. A couple of nights in hospital to rest and recuperate will do you the world of good he says. He will see you again in the morning  he says.

The ward is hot. You look around at your fellow roomies. There is a little bird in the bed nearest the bathroom, she is tiny, she looks pretty old. The sign above her head says she must be turned every 30 minutes and no solid foods. The lady opposite me is very regal looking, very dignified. It turns out she has leukemia, was in remission but it has come back with a vengeance. The medication is giving her grief and she is struggling with diarrhea. The last filled bed is a lady from an old aged home with serious bed sores, there are nurses working on her even at 1am in the morning; making notes of the lesions and sores she has, cleaning them up. You feel sorry for her at the time.

They have asked for a urine specimen so you take your drip stand on a walk to the bathroom, getting a glimpse of a big white bottom through the gap in the curtains. You catch sight of the sores,  not pretty. Finally 1.30am they put the lights out you manage to get an hour or two of sleep, it is hard because every half hour you hear them turn the fragile bird over. You are coughing and chesty, and you know you coughed during the night  possibly keeping everyone awake except the regal lady, she had  sleeping tablet. Until 4am that is when a vampire swooped in to take blood from her. The urine sample is still on your bedside table.

The lights go on, 4.30am. The lady with the bedsores complained very loudly that she hasn’t slept at all because of all the coughing. You know she slept, she snores.You feel a moments guilt, you cannot help coughing, you were dying. By 5am she has started to chant an ongoing manta ow ow ow ow ow, no no no no no no, omg omg omg the pain, omg omg omg the pain, oy oy oy oy. It isn’t even 7am yet and you are wondering if it is okay to put a pillow over her head. You no longer feel guilty about the coughing. Bathroom break, you take the drip stand for another stroll. The bird looks at you and very politely asks you what page we were on, you smile at her, ask her if she remembers what page, she says 18. That’s right you say, carry on reading love. Ow ow ow, oy oy oy, omg omg omg. You cannot shut it out, it follows you to the bathroom.

The shift is changing so all the nurses are busy, ow ow ow, oy oy oy, omg omg omg, the regal lady in the bed opposite is in trouble her stomach is running and she hasn’t made it out if bed or to the bathroom on time. She is standing distraught but with refined dignity next to her bed, her PJ bottoms covered in watery shit waiting for a nurse to come and help. The shift is changing we will be along  just now, one says. For 30 minutes she stands next to her fouled bed waiting for assistance to the background sound of ow ow ow, oy oy oy, omg omg omg the pain. You marvel at her stoicism. She eventually ends up cleaned and in an adult nappy. The urine sample is still on your bedside table.

The birds husband has arrived, he kisses her tenderly on the cheek, he hugs her delicately. He is amazing. she has no idea who he is. he spends the whole day with her the regal lady says to you. he feeds her, holds her hand and talks to her. He is even more amazing. The ward is abuzz with doctors, nurses, cleaners, the tea lady pops in, breakfast arrives, noise, noise, noise, visitors for the regal queen, eight of them! ow ow ow, oy oy oy, omg omg omg, finally they put something in her drip there is a brief respite blessed silence from that side of the ward. 10am, doctor arrives, smelling of smoke and Old Spice again. Doctor can I please go home today you ask, you should be here another night he says. I can’t stay here you say, ow ow ow, oy oy oy, no no no, omg omg omg starts again, there is no way to rest here you say, looking pointedly in the other direction, just as they starting drilling and hammering in the offices next door. He nods, go home today he says with a sad smile, he understands. Spend a few days in bed he says.

Just after 12 your  lift arrives and you walk out the ward carrying your plastic shopping bag with toothbrush and paste , it so frenetic that you don’t think anyone has actually noticed until the sister comes charging after you with a pink discharge slip, don’t forget to pick up your meds at the dispensary she says and races away. Ow ow, oy oy oy, omg omg  omg falls away behind you, you go home to sleep and curl up with a 47 kilo dog.  The urine sample is still on the bedside table.