Low life

Why can’t my mother be allowed to die at home

6 July 2019

9:00 AM

6 July 2019

9:00 AM

As they say: it all happened so quickly that it wasn’t until afterwards. One minute I was bawling at my sister, the next NHS workers arrived from all directions and removed my mother from her house to a nursing home. It was like the dramatic conclusion to an undercover ‘sting’ operation. They came streaming in through the front door laughing and joking. To avoid doing anything silly or controversial, I removed myself from the scene.

While my mother was being carried out of her front door, a diplomatic mission was dispatched to offer me a confection of emollient explanations. This consisted of a community nurse and an occupational therapist. They were not women to argue from first principles. Legality was all that mattered. She was being hawked off to a nursing home for ‘safety’ reasons, they said. ‘Safety’ was paramount, they said. Legally, two nurses were required to lift her. It was no longer safe for me to do this myself. This authoritarian nonsense only further embittered me. She hadn’t long to go. Maybe a week, two at the outside. Surely it was better for her to die in the familiar and comfortable surroundings of her own home? If I put my back out, I put my back out. So what? Were they mad?

Owing to one problem or another, Mum had had little or no sleep the night before. Then there was the upset of being uprooted and installed in unfamiliar surroundings. And her change of circumstances provoked another exhausting stream of chatterbox visitors. (They were queuing.) And when my son and I visited in the evening, she was a ghastly colour and lying on the bed with her eyes closed. We didn’t stay. As we left the room, my son asked for a moment to compose himself.

Returning to the nursing home early the following morning, we wondered whether she’d made it through the night. We found her fast asleep in bed. She was sweaty, with an anguished expression on her face. A couple of drama queens, we initially mistook her snoring for the death rattle. I laid my hand on one of hers. She didn’t wake. My son solved the problem of how to fling the window wide open, then we pulled up a chair each on either side of her.

Her heavy, well-thumbed paperback Bible lay on the table beside her. I picked it up and opened it at random. Psalm 91. I knew that comatose invalids can sometimes hear and understand. I began to read it aloud. ‘Surely He will deliver thee from the snare of the fowler and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.’ My son is not a pious individual, and I am a ludicrous figure to him, but if his father reading aloud from the Bible was making him inwardly corpse, he betrayed not a sign of it.

Psalm 91 couldn’t have been more suitable. On a roll I read out one Psalm after another. But as I read on, I felt uncomfortable. God seems to divide people into two distinct lots: the wise and the foolish, the righteous and the wicked, the obedient and the wilful, the slanderers and the prudent. The former flourish, the latter have their lives cut short. Listen, for example, to Psalm 51: ‘But though O God shalt bring them [the wicked] down into the pit of destruction: bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days.’ After reading that, I flicked hastily forward at random to Proverbs 10, which concludes: ‘The fear of the Lord prolongeth days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened.’ ‘Blimey,’ I said to my son, thoroughly convinced of my sin. ‘And it jolly well serves you right,’ he said. After that I stuck to those passages she’d underlined through the years in faint Biro, which referred to unguessable incidents in her blameless life.

Then she looked up, first without recognition, then with pleasure. She badly wanted the loo, she said. I said it would be quicker and easier if I lifted her out of bed and on to the commode, rather than ringing the bell for help. We worked out how to lower the wooden barrier preventing her from falling out of bed, raised her up, swivelled her round, brought the commode up to within six inches of her knees. Now all that remained was to get her on her feet, turn her round, and lower her gently on to the seat.

At that point two staff appeared and took over. They swivelled her and lowered her using a sort of elaborate industrial sack truck. By the time they’d done that it was   partly too late. But rules are rules, I suppose, and I should move with the times.

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