MIL is dying, that is a fact, even if some of her closest relatives think she will pull through. The phrase used by the nurses looking after her is “she is weary”. Very upsettingly her elder sister went to see her yesterday and whilst she was incapable of verbal communication she cried twice.
When we saw her last week she was very frail but she atleast had a twinkle in her eye and when I held her hand and looked her in the eye and said “the Infant is looking after you, isn’t he?” she replied confidently “Of course!”. Last week, the pain she’d been experiencing for years didn’t seem to be there. The anxiety and worry and feelings of worthlessness that had also dogged her later years also seemed to have gone, whilst she slept for most of our visit a beautiful smile played across her face.
Unfortunately for us, there is a drama playing out of which she is mercifully unaware. Care for the elderly in England is about as subtle as moving boxes of books around the Amazon warehouse. The bottom line seems to be, she cannot die where she is. For the last 6 weeks, since a particularly viscous bladder infection, she has been in and out of hospitals and intermediate care centres with the “hope” of being able to send her back to her flat in sheltered accommodation. The intermediate care centres now don’t want her and she will probably need constant supervision so going back to her flat is not an option either. The family all now dread the thought of her slipping away unnoticed in some dreary nursing home.
How have we let this state arise? I suppose in the past she would have died a long time ago, her long life is largely down to the physician’s skill and her great fear of meeting her Maker. What is sad is that everyone of us close to her live in houses too small to accommodate her, and is desperately trying to earn a living and hang onto his or her job. The old fashioned option would have been to take her in and care for her and cherish her in her last weeks. This just can’t happen now, and we are the poorer for not being able to care for our elderly in this way. Nor does the hospice movement in England provide care for the elderly dying who are simply dying of old age which would allow them to fade away in their own beds in their own homes, surrounded by their own things and close family. Nor are there hospices for the dying elderly. Why do we all fear nursing homes so much?
The answer is, whilst some are brilliant, many are hopelessly understaffed, dreary and soulless. It all seems too much like the warehousing of unwanted books waiting to be pulped.
The wholesome and Catholic option is what is missing. It is not the care that the state can provide that matters the most. Along with newborns, the dying should be our most cherished members of the Church. They are closest to God and this is so tangible as you sit with them and cry. Both newborns and the faithful dying are the greatest evangelists the Church has to offer. When we are with the dying, we seem to have forgotten how to listen to them and to be near them in the way God wants. We are so busy caring for the physical body, we become absent minded about their souls. Whilst, thank God, in MILs case priests have visited and she has received the Sacrament of the Sick, this is in danger of becoming just another thing on a “to do” list, like her laundry and conversing with the social workers. Why do we laity find it so hard to pray for and with the dying? Christ is physically with them as they die, we should be as willing to be there as we are to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.