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A Forced Transition

This week a resident in one of our Care Homes took his own life in a horrid way. A silence has set in for me, a deep silence which I am not sure how to interpret. I do believe we have the right to take our own lives, to decide whether we want to live or die. I also do believe that it is a very sel sh thing to do to others, but I fully understand that one can get to the end of the road. I understand depression and despair.

He left a note that contained the words of Psalm102:

“Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers. My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food. In my distress, I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones. I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins. I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof. All day long my enemies taunt me; those who rail against me use my name as a curse. For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears because of your great wrath, for you have taken me up and thrown me aside. My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass. But you, LORD, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations.”

How often do we see the pain and angst that our fellow humans suffer? Our lives have become so detached from one another, each one of us chasing after time.

There is so much sadness in this world. So many older people are no longer part of a family unit, feeling that they are a burden to the world, with no purpose. While we bandy on about climate change, Trump and Boris and Brexit, more and more people are being left out in the cold, feeling deep existential despair. What am I here? Where do I belong?

Yesterday morning my father suffered a devastating stroke. I woke up to a few missed calls – when I saw who they were from I knew. Somehow I knew the night before already. I spoke to my Dad just before he went to bed. I could hear in his voice that he was not well. He had a small procedure on Thursday to cut something out of his neck. Somehow, I just had a feeling that he was not ok.

It is a four-hour drive to Mosselbay where he was taken by ambulance in the early hours of the morning. Seeing my rock-solid, motorbike-fanatic father lying with his mouth open gasping for air was terrible. On Thursday he was still on his bike. Now this…

I phone the doctor, who is quick to tell me that I must realise that my Dad is 84. I am quick to tell him that my Dad is fitter than me and that the day before he was still on his motorbike. I hear the doctor gulp. I cannot help but think if he would have treated my father differently had he known more about him, and not judged him just by his chronological age…

The stroke caused severe brain damage and bleeding. My father will be living in bed for the rest of his life, incontinent, unable to do anything for himself, the doctor assures me. I have worked with older people for the past 24 years, and I have seen this more often than I care to remember. And yet…this is MY father, this should be different, we never thought this would happen to him…

In truth, we never thought about it at all. We joked about him writing himself off on his bike one day. But yet again, we assumed immortality. Whilst he was so strong and stubborn it suited us to believe that he will just go on forever. And ever.

Having just attended a conference on midwifery of the soul and death doulas, I am acutely aware of the synchronicity. The Sacredness of Life, my father’s Soul is about to depart from this world and transition to another plane. And yet, when I hold his hand, see the scars and calluses, the bruises, the well-manicured fingernails, it is almost impossible to consider that this body will soon be Life-less. Dead. Finished. To be discarded, cremated.

This body is part of me, of who I am. I sat on this lap and was given hugs and hidings by these hands. And here I am tonight, lying in my father’s bed, while he is fighting for his Life. I hope his transition is soon. I wish him light and love to guide him, that his beloved ginger cat Sushi and wirehair brak Buks will be guiding his animal lover Soul to the Great Beyond. And that he will understand how totally helpless we feel.

This is your last lesson that you will teach us, Dad. How to die. I will be at your side keeping vigil.

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