The sun had set upon the life of a dear lady. Tears welled inside me as I put pen to paper to write a sympathy card for the family. This is so silly of me acting this way, I thought. It goes against all our basic training, “Be kind but don’t get too involved with them!” Anyway, this dear lady was no relative of mine, nor friend of particularly long standing, yet in a way I think I had grown to love her. She had become so dependant on me, and she was so demanding. Love often stems from total dependency.
At the end of her life she became remarkably awkward – she did everything the wrong way round. I offered her the left arm of her coat first when helping her into it, but she gave me her right hand and consequently so often she ended up wearing her coat the wrong way round. She always reprimanded me for 'getting it wrong'. I asked her quite frequently if she was dyslectic or if she had been a breech baby. Certainly, she was so impatient she must have been a premature baby – never could she have lasted the full nine months! She kept us all on our toes constantly!
But she was so nice and so generous with her sweets and chocolates and kind words, and she had an infectious smile and charm, all of her own. I remembered on one occasion arriving at the hospital pushing this lady in her wheelchair. There was a real commotion when she stood up, veering sharply to the left with me trying to hold her upright, whilst trying to take off her coat as well - what a struggle! "What are you trying to do to me, strangle me?"
"Don't tempt me!" was my reply. Even she saw the funny side and one of the nurses nearly fell off her chair laughing. It was the highlight of the morning us arriving, or should I say, this lady arriving at the Dialysis Unit - what a personality she was.
Another time she was carrying a zimmer frame whilst I pushed her in the wheelchair. "Watch out folks a Dalek is coming!" I laughed, and she joined in the fun shouting, "Exterminate them! Exterminate them!" We enjoyed sharing the fun with the nurses. The number of times I nearly broke my neck tripping over on her wretched zimmer frame - it was always in the way, with nowhere to put it in the ambulance except on my front passenger seat. There was usually an amusing incident or two because she was a great character. How I miss those humorous times with her.
With fond memories like this, I returned to the task of writing the sympathy card in my best handwriting, choosing my words carefully. After all, this very special lady was 93 years young, a renal patient whom I had been taking back and forth to the Dialysis Unit three days a week for well over two years.
I was so pleased she was a committed Christian. I had no worries whatsoever about her salvation. We had talked about such things many times and I told her that one day, in the next life, we would both be young again and we would have a race and she would win. "You bet I will", she said, "can't wait to lick you!" She was a very competitive type. During an earlier conversation she had told me that after the death of her daughter, taken from her at an early age, she felt a very strong presence and saw a face of a young girl in the clouds smiling at her lovingly, as though the girl intended to convey to her, "It's alright Mum, I'm OK, don't worry." She told me that after that experience she felt much better.
I began to write:
Safe in the loving arms of Jesus.With fondest memories of a very kind and wonderful lady who I shall miss, more than words can say. I consider myself extremely privileged that our paths crossed and I was so pleased to have been able to help your mother, albeit in a small way.
Throughout her suffering there was only a good word for others, a lovely smile on her face and she possessed a great sense of humour - my we had some fun together.
All my colleagues at the Ambulance Service are saddened at her passing - she was highly regarded and loved by all.
She is now reunited with her husband and daughter - taken away so cruelly when so young.
I know I have a friend in Heaven and I know that Earth's loss is Heaven's gain.
My thoughts and prayers are with you all at this sad time.
God Bless you all.
I folded the card and placed it inside the envelope and thought back to happier times just three months before. There were three patients in the ambulance en route to the Dialysis Unit. This lady was seated in her usual place with a blanket of course, just passing through her home village, on our way to collect another patient at a town near the sea.
This second lady was another special lady, whom I shalll call Pearl. I fondly remember the look on her face when I handed her Christmas card with the words inside, "To Pearl, the nicest little gem in the whole jewel box".
"I shall always keep this", she smiled.
(Sadly she has died as well - in fact most of my patients have but I heard the other day two of the younger men have had successful kidney transplants. I heard this great news six months after my retirement. I jumped for joy. There was a time I lost so many patients I was given the nickname, The Terminator.)
The journey's silence was broken when my first lady saw the village cross mounted on some steps, situated in the Town's square, where she grew up. "I was born here, you know - see that cross with the steps? I used to jump off that when I was a little girl." I pulled over and stopped the ambulance. "Are you going to show us how you did it?"
She retorted in words she often used to me when I teased her. "Don't be such a silly ass!", she said, laughing, and we proceeded on our way. A few miles on she said, "See that house? My dad was born there". I could not help thinking that it was as though she realised that she would not see these things many more times. Earlier, I had picked her up from her bungalow. I knew the key password and let myself in. There was just time to feed the cat and get her ready. She needed her boots on so I bent down on one knee and helped her put them on. She used to enjoy a little bit of jesting so I said, "Darling, will you marry me? Look I'm on my knees!"
"Then you'd better say your prayers, you silly ass!" was the reply. I helped her to her feet. She was nowhere near as able to walk as she had been even recently with her zimmer frame. I was becoming very worried about her - I almost had to carry her once or twice and I found her lying on the floor one morning. I had to report the incident, of course but she was very worried what the authorities would do. She always wanted to die at home and she was very concerned that she might be 'put away' in a nursing home. There was nobody else there during the day because her son was at work. Of course the home help carers came twice a day but that was not enough. Her condition deteriorated rapidly until she could not walk at all and I used to wheel a wheelchair in through the back door and out to the ambulance.
The nurses at the Dialysis Unit and I worked together to make her life as comfortable as possible - we all knew she was slowly dying, and so did she. One Friday was the last time I took her in for treatment. I remember very well on that evening, after treatment, assisting a nurse with her onto the scales, into her coat and into her wheelchair. The nurse talked comfortingly to her, saying she would soon be home. That was the last time they saw her.
Next Monday morning I arrived at her house and sensed that was all different - that it would never be the same again. She was not ready - she was in bed. She smiled at me as I entered her room – I shall never forget it. She said, "I'm not going to go for dialysis any more. I'm so tired and unwell, and I want to end it all now – I have decided that it is time for me to see my husband and my daughter again, and Jesus."
She kissed me on the cheek affectionately and thanked me for all I had done for her, and for my kindness. In a way I think she loved me too. She was so sincere. It was genuine gratitude which was very touching. For the last few weeks I had been intending to get a photograph of us together but kept forgetting my camera – now there was no chance of this, regrettably. I tried hard to persuade her to continue with dialysis - I knew that without it her body would be poisoned and she could not last much more than a week. I gave her six chances to change her mind over the next few days by which time her relatives were there at the bungalow. This wonderful lady was resolute and we all respected her wishes - it was indeed time for her to go, it was her decision and she had made it.
The funeral service at her local Church was very uplifting. She had organised it all a long time ago. She had chosen her favourite hymns including, "Rock of Ages" and "Abide with me". I was very touched when the Vicar, noticing me in uniform seated at the back of the church, said, "I see this lady's Ambulance Man is here". I nodded. "Wonderful", he said.
Goodbye, dearest friend
God Bless and RIP
I told you you would need a box of tissues
I am highly honoured to recieve Post Of The Week for this post which means a lot to me: the post and the award. Thank you Hilary of The Smitten Image, 9th June 2010
If you enjoy a nice cry and have the tissues with you then you might like to read
Funeral For A Wonderful Lady
Funeral For A Wonderful Lady