It is not very nice watching someone fade away. I’m not sure the person is dying as such, but the ropes are slowly loosening from their moorings and there is an accompanying death of spirit that is frightening to behold.
Imagine a woman who has been through many struggles in life but was always determined to retain her dignity. There was the time when they were too poor to buy coal and her children would be sent out to scavenge for it from the railway embankments (not that she would ever divulge this story, you understand). There were the many times the children may have behaved less than perfectly as they grew up and caused embarrassment, grief and pain and gossip amongst the neighbours. There were her countless trips to hospital with one serious problem or another, always undignified and humiliating for such a prudish woman.
She is a gentle creature and prone to follow other people’s wishes for her, never sparing a thought for her own wishes and desires. She meekly does what she thinks she ought.
Now she spends most of her day, every day, sitting in her chair, being poached alive by the suffocating heat of her sheltered accommodation, having no company but the over loud telly. Her teeth don’t fit, but you’re not allowed to trouble anyone to get her new ones. Her hearing aid is crap, but don’t you dare trouble anyone for a better one. There are plenty to care for her and yet so little care is implemented. Yes the smells, leaks and creaks are cared for, but somehow I wonder if that is what she has become, just a series of ill fitting plumbing pieces. How often does anyone have tea with her? How often does anyone visit her and talk to her about adult things as an adult to another adult. My own visits are frustrated, there is so much I want to say but it gets lost in a vacuous sea of talk about family and their achievements. She is more than capable of good and fun conversations face to face, but most visits nowadays usually involve the smoke screen of a cute infant to dandle on the knee. Diverting, and joyous yes but not enough, not adult enough. Adult company and companionship, a recognition of a joint spiritual journey, wisdom and fear of the unknown, prayer and heartache, talking about matters of the heart and soul, lighthearted and serious….
She is electing to eat very little, she is electing to find no pleasure in anything, she is giving up. This is not helped by a frightening chemical cosh supplied by her doctor for pain management, it is impossible for her to think straight for any length of time. Are the drugs worth the side effects?
She is a woman who has been a faithful Catholic all her life and been an inspiration in the faith in so many ways, this makes her current state so very distressing. Has her determination and love of life come to this? What were a lifetime of “Hail Marys” about if this emptiness is the last days you have on earth?
We ask if she wants to see a priest?
Oh no, she’s not ready for that, she says.
Maybe that’s it, maybe she isn’t loving life enough to face death. She isn’t in a living purgatory, that would be redeeming, there would be a positive element to her suffering. Is she creating her own hell on earth by neither owning up to living life or owning up to facing death?
Why are there no formal missions to the elderly? Isn’t evangelising a priority? When the onslaughts on you body and mind (through no fault of your own) are so great why is there so little spiritual help for you.
As an aside, the meals on wheels man can enter her flat when he needs to, the man who brings her pills can enter when he wants to, so can the carers…..but a priest….oh no, he needs to be let in by the occupant, he can’t make a call because he wants to…..she has to let him in herself, but she doesn’t seem able to do that….
Pray for the lonely elderly, who are waiting this Advent.