Monday, December 06, 2010

the list

The snow has retreated from the close, the only sign it was ever here, a slightly muddier grass verge, and isolated patches of ice caught like blown suds beneath the immaculate stands of privet, pyracantha, cotoneaster.
We rumble to a stop outside a bright little bungalow half-way down the road. The arrival of the ambulance causes a discrete riot of attention, with elderly faces appearing at various bay fronts and bedroom windows, curtains tentatively drawn aside, front doors opening. As I climb out, a woman in a cleaner’s apron stands absently by her front door folding a cloth over and over in her hands. She smiles sadly as I say hello, and nods in the direction of the number we want.
The door is open; I knock and we step inside onto a spread of crumpled polythene sheeting.
‘The snow,’ says David, a middle aged man appearing from along the corridor. ‘She hated all the mud.’
‘Where is she?’
He nods to a room behind him. His wife Alison appears in the doorway of the kitchen at the end of the corridor. ‘It’s no good,’ she says. ‘She’s gone.’
Deidre is sitting in a neat little upright armchair, slumped over on to her right side, her legs drawn inwards, her right arm crooked up with her hand pressed against the side of her face, like someone who fell asleep trying to solve a problem. She has on a tightly bound hairnet, a fluffy blue dressing-gown over flowery yellow pyjamas and hand-knitted woolly bootees. Caught napping. You would think our inconsiderate barging-in would wake her up. But she is as rigid to the touch as a waxworks model; she has been dead these twelve hours or more.
‘When was the last time anyone spoke to Deidre?’
‘Last night, just before she went to bed. Everything was absolutely fine. Nothing untoward. I couldn’t get hold of her all morning, but she’s got this emergency button so we weren’t that concerned. But when I still couldn’t get her at lunchtime and her best friend Rene hadn’t heard anything, we came round.’

We go into the dining room to write out the paperwork and contact the police. David and Alison sit with us, but she quickly excuses herself to make some calls.
‘I must cancel the cleaner and the gardener,’ she says. ‘I don’t want them to learn from a police car outside or a note on the door.’
‘Here’s the address book,’ David says, opening a tattered black object as worn at the corners and closely covered with writing as the Rosetta stone. ‘Good luck.’
As I fill in the ROLE sheet and patient report form, Frank chats to him.
‘There’s very little sign of distress, David,’ he says. ‘I mean, you never know exactly what happened, but my feeling is she got up in the night feeling unwell, made her way to the front room, just had time to sit herself down in the chair and then – boom – had a heart attack and was gone. I really don’t think she would’ve suffered at all.’
‘Really? Do you think it was that quick?’
‘I’m absolutely convinced.’
‘Thanks. I’d hate to think of her suffering.’
‘She looks so peaceful. Just like she fell asleep.’
‘I hope so.’
Around us on the dining room table are heaps of unwrapped presents, newly constructed decorative cardboard boxes, stacks of half finished Christmas cards – and in front of all this, two long lists: presents and cards.
‘Your mum’s a very organised woman,’ says Frank. ‘I’m impressed.’
‘If you think she’s organised you should see Alison,’ says David. ‘Incredible. I just fall in behind.’
‘Got it,’ says Alison from down in the kitchen.
‘See what I mean?’
Frank looks over the list and then puts it back on the table.
‘I haven’t even started thinking about my Christmas shopping, let alone wrapping it.’
‘She’s got family all over the place,’ says David.
I pass over one of the sheets for Frank to countersign, and glance over the Christmas list: bubble bath, gloves, gardening book, scented candles, jumper, cushion covers – each item with a name alongside it, and a tick.
The doorbell rings.
‘That’ll be the police,’ says Frank, getting up to show them in.
‘What am I going to do with all this stuff?’ says David.
I don’t know whether he should send it or not, but at that moment Alison comes into the dining room again with the address book in one hand the phone in the other. We both turn to her. She’ll know.


jacksofbuxton said...

We found my paternal Grandfather like that.Just sat in his armchair with radio 4 still playing.You can only hope it is peaceful in the end.

I'm not afraid of death,I just don't want to be there when it happens.

Once again,beautifully written Spence.

Spence Kennedy said...

That sounds like the perfect way to go. Gardeners Question Time and a cup of tea. (But knowing my luck it'd be Money Box Live, and I'd have a heart attack in my rush to switch it off).

Thanks JoB!

call me any name said...

There have been times when I could ave done with an Alison to turn to, seriously.
Thanks for another post that brings aspects of the world in to my life I never thought would move me so.

Spence Kennedy said...

Absolutely. She was fantastic. Someone with a brilliantly practical view of things. If ever I wash up on a desert island, I hope Alison is there to organise things. I'm good for swimming off-shore on the wreck, maybe climbing for coconuts - that's it. x

mrsnesbitt said...

My mum died in her sleep, in 1994 Heart Attack - she was half way through a book which was on her bed - I often wondered about the book.
I have been reading your blog for an hour - will add it to my list if it's OK with you?

Spence Kennedy said...

It's devastating to lose someone close to you, but at least there's some comfort in the knowledge they died peacefully like that.

Thanks v much for reading the blog, Mrs N. I appreciate your support. Hope everything's good with you.

The Real Housewife of Greensboro said...

That's just so sad. It's amazing what you have to go through as an EMT. Thank God there are people, (well really heroes as I call them), like you out there that can handle these things. God Bless You.

Spence Kennedy said...

It is astonishing, the variety of jobs we go to - from Sat night drunks to poignant family scenes like this one. I thought Deidre had a lovely family - it was a pleasure to help them out in whatever way we could.

Thanks for your comment, and your support RHG. x

saffy said...

i lost my mum about three years ago... she died in her sleep, after she had recovered from three strokes. Funny thing is it was almost as if she knew........she had shown me the tuesday before where everything was in the house for Dad ( who was himself in hospital) as he would neer have found them.
Dad was upset but the thing he clung to afterwards was she opened her eyes before hand and smiled at him......and she had such a wonderful time the day before, seeing many friends and phoning up her grandchildren to tell them she loved them. A thought that crossed my head was that she knew her time was right and maybe your lady did as well .
hugs and light

Spence Kennedy said...

Sorry to hear about your mum, Saffy. But again, the way you describe her last days, it sounds as if she had time to make her peace and leave with a great deal of love and dignity, which is the very best any of us could hope for.

Thanks for the comment. x

Nari said...

It's kind of comforting to know that there is an Alison to take care of the loose ends which clearly would have been important to someone such as Deidre.

And how I would enjoy sending out final gifts to those I care about after I've passed. It's a nice reminder that love lives on even when the person doesn't.

Spence Kennedy said...

It's great to have people like Alison around. They absolutely shine in a crisis. I think sending out gifts after someone's died would be a very poignant thing to do - I'm just not sure how I'd do it (the wording in the card etc). Maybe you could hand them out at the funeral / wake?

Miss Havisham said...

My mother in law died 7/12/2007. She knew she wasn't going to see Christmas and had bought her gifts in the months leading up to that day.

I am not sure now, but I don't think any of them were wrapped at that point. I know we wrapped some. She'd also sent me on an errand to buy a couple of gifts that week. And there was one more that we did't manage to buy until the New Year.

Her funeral was a few days before Christmas. We gave out the presents whenever we happened upon the recipient. Not at the funeral/wake though. It gave us something to do during those difficult first weeks. The lady to whom we gave the pashmina (the item we bought in the New Year) received that in the first weeks of January. We met her for lunch to pass it on. She was very touched that my mother in law had thought of her up until the end.

I couldn't not pass the gifts on. There were few instructions left for us but we knew that's what she'd have wanted. I couldn't bear the idea that her list making and present buying might have it gone to waste. And many of the recipients took comfort in knowing she'd thought of them during her last days.

Thanks for sharing this story. Love your writing. Every single one touches me - whether out of pure nosey-ness or what I don't know. But thank you for writing

Wren said...

Beautifully written, Spence. I felt as if I was in that room with you, taking note of Deirdra's quiet end, her devotion to her family and her obvious enjoyment of the upcoming holiday. Once again you've touched my heart and made me smile. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

Spence Kennedy said...

Miss Havisham - Thanks for your lovely comment. It sounds as if you handled your mother-in-law's death wtih great love and sensitivity. I think you're right - giving out the presents in the way that you did made her death much more of a graduated, organic passing. I like the feeling that the person isn't suddenly 'gone', but recedes into something else gradually over time. I'm not a religious person, or someone who believes in ghosts or the spirit world per se, but I do think that on an unconscious, deeply human level, the people we love and have a deep connection with will always be present in some way, in dreams and memory and the very fabric of our being.

As far as the writing goes, I have to admit that I'm incorrigibly nosy, too. I just hope I'm discrete with it - a constant battle!

Hi Wren
Lovely to hear from you. Hope you're well.

It's always good to write about warm and positive episodes. Even though it was sad that Deidre had died, of course, I felt the whole scene was very life affirming. I hope that I can experience as much as she did by the time I reach that point! :) x

Lauren said...

I hope that's how I go, in many many years time, although hopefully not with Money Box Live on the radio...

Apparently I'm an Alison, my first thought when something happens is always "what needs to be done and how can I help". I may be totally useless at the emotional side of things but my goodness I can organise.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Lauren - Three words to strike terror into the sternest heart: Money Box Live, (but only marginally more horrific than: You and Yours.)

Thank God for the organisers of the world. It's a great skill and you should be proud. I think it's one of the best and most palpable ways you can express your love and support for someone - by rolling up your sleeves... :)