I hadn’t heard my father utter my name in such a long time that I didn’t register at first that it was him calling me. We’d barely spoken those past few days at Grandmas but now his urgent voice came from her bedroom, my response was heightened. I took the flight of steps 3 at a time, after 5 days my legs were now used to the stretch. He was sitting at the right side of Grandma’s bed.
‘Hello there, what’s the latest then, all good?’
I always tried to keep upbeat around her, as one would with a child who is suffering. Dementia is after all like childhood in reverse, so positivity was imperative with as little drama as possible whatever the situation. Calm and decisive was how I’d seen the nurses behave, but with smiles and light voices so I tried to emulate their good practise in my own style. Grandma knew she was dying so being maudlin or over the top with concern was the last thing she needed.
‘Is everything OK? Grandma?’
She was moaning gently, groping at the blankets over her legs, her face awash with a mixture of discomfort and frustration. I leaned in to soothe her and ease the weight of the layers on her tiny frame. Her whisper was pleading.
‘Send him…help…pain….oh darling’
She wept without tears, even they were too much for her.
‘She said her legs hurt. Can you rub her cream in or something?’
He sounded panicked and somewhat helpless, which of course he was. How could he be expected to manage this situation? His mother was like an exotic bird to him; beautiful and protected. It had always been that way. Just because she was frail and nearing the end of her life didn’t make her poise and dignity around men any easier to penetrate. Well, not unless she had a real soft spot for him, and that’s not how it was between them.
I needed to move her body in the bed to prevent sores, but also to alleviate the pains in her right hip, of which the femur we knew to be completely out of it’s joint. I lifted the blanket discreetly, I could see the bone protruding against her delicate translucent skin. Rubbing a topical painkilling gel was the only remedy now in conjunction with a daily intake of paracetamol and a generous dose of love and care.
‘Can we have some privacy please?’
My voice once more came out sounding weak and empty, somehow I always hoping that those around might have a grain of common sense and know instinctively how to behave around a dying woman; I didn’t think I needed to be masterful. But I kept forgetting who I was dealing with. I don’t think the ease sound in please was even out when he responded.
‘I’ll stay here thank you.’
Being my father’s daughter it’s easy for him to trip my wire. Whilst I like to think that I am the next evolutionary step from him we share some traits, and the sharp tongue we can boast connected the three generations in that room. I glanced up and could feel the temper burning through the sorrow in my eyes as I urged in that look an understanding of female dignity for both my Grandmother and me. I knew it wasn’t being received.
‘Please. Please can you leave the room?’
The tension between us was immediatley palpable. One of the regular carers was standing in the doorway and I felt her awkwardness as he got up, walked around the bed and slid out past her. I knew I’d hurt his feelings but he wasn’t my concern, at least not any more. Neither could I waste time lingering on the guilt, Grandma needed me and it was her time.
After changing the dressing on her leg, repositioning her in the ‘princess and the pea’ bed and chatting for a while I settled Grandma for a rest. The house became quiet again as the activity surrounding care subsided. I crept downstairs to poison myself with another life saving cigarette and liquify my stiff sleepless bones with hot sweet tea. I peered around cautiously expecting another uncomfortable group moment but he had gone.
I wanted to call, tell him I was sorry, such was my old behaviour. Always feel guilty, always blame myself, and always bow down to his dramatic exits, curtailments of phone calls and endless silences. I knew that this time was the last time I could put out the olive branch, but it would have to wait until tomorrow; I really needed to sleep.