Tuesday, 16 September 2008

What do you do when someone dies?

We have never had anyone in our family die before, well no one in the UK. My uncle died in Ethiopia. He was ill for a long while with a mystery illness which like many mystery illnesses in Africa was most probably HIV-Aids related. No one in my family (except my pragmatic mother) will admit this despite the fact that his wife had subsequently been found to be HIV positive - they would never admit to the stigma of AIDS. But I digress.

We have never had to deal with anyone in the UK dieing. So I have resorted to the Internet, where with the help of the citizens advice bureau and Age Concern we have been figuring out what to do when the time comes.

My mother seems very calm about it, but then she is a nurse and used to being around the sick and dieing. I know she finds it difficult. She said to me she wished he had gone home to Ethiopia so that she wouldn't have to see him like this. i don't blame her because it is a terrible thing to see. The change in him is astonishing. He hasn't had any appetite for months and has been slowly loosing weight. I didn't really notice at first but the last few months i did realise he was looking gaunt and becoming increasingly frail. Frail was not a word you would have ever associated with him before.

He can not walk and has no feeling below the wait because the cancer has spread to his hips. He is so weak he can not roll over and has to be lifted and turned by the nurses. He barely has the energy to lift the soup spoon to his mouth. Soup is all he will eat because it hurts to swallow and i seriously he'd have the energy to chew more than a couple of mouthfuls anyway.

When he speaks it comes out as a horse whisper. He dozes in and out of consciousness all day because of the morphine. He isn't able to hold a conversation mostly just giving one word answers to the barrage of questions fired by his constant stream of visitors who then end up chatting to each other. My family has been visiting daily, even my self obsessed teenage god daughter who has nothing better to do as she waits for sixth form college to start. She is considering nursing, so this is a good experience for her. I have been visiting approximately every other day. Nemesis hasn't been at all.

I feel a bit useless as a visitor. Sitting there not saying anything because i can't think of anything to say and I keep on talking about the tube. how packed the carriage was, how many stops i had to stand for before getting a seat. is he even listening, does he find it annoying, does he find it comforting to have visitors?
Sometimes he says 'you can go now, you don't have to stay any longer' to who ever is there, if the doctor has begun his rounds at the other end of the ward, uses it as an excuse to send us on our way.

I feel impotent, what can i do to make things better. I asked if I should bring flowers Mum said not to bother. I offered to bring him a book, he said maybe next week.

Mum gets frustrated at having to ask the nurses to do things for him, like give him an oxygen mask or administer his pain killers. because she knows exactly what needs to be done and how to do it but this isn't her ward, she can't treat the patients here. it's be tough for her during the day treating her patients while her husband lies in a bed on the floor below.

I suppose all i can do is make thing as easy for her as possible. Cooking her dinner, cleaning and tiding up, trying to distract her from negative thoughts.
For once i am glad I still live at home. I wouldn't want her to be alone.


  1. Having been through this a few times then the going to see your stepdad is not just comforting for him but also good for you. Just you being there will probably be enough for him. As you have realised its your mum that needs your support, being around, and not only now but later. Its not easy.