January 1, 2015

Not a happy new year

 

The friend I’ve been visiting in hospital?

She’s dying.

It won’t be long now.

I hate this.  This is a stupid system, this life thing.  She’s younger than I am, by the way.  And another friend—another good friend—who is also younger than I am—has just been diagnosed with . . . well.  Not with blue skies and happy fluffy bunnies.

Life sucks.  And then, as we know, you die.

So, that’s been my holidays.*  Let’s call her Alcestis—the friend who’s dying—although in the damned myth some god or godling usually comes along at the last minute and saves her, and so far as I know my friend’s Admetus wasn’t in any danger.  She’s been ill for a while, and in and out of hospital, but they’ve known for a while they aren’t going to turn this one around, it’s going to get her, and sooner rather than later.  And she’s been slipping—also for a while—but the last three weeks or so the slope has suddenly got steeper.  Although we knew this was going to happen too.

I’ve been through this before, of course, but it doesn’t get easier, losing people—watching them slide away from you, and you can’t do a bloody thing except sit by their bedside and breathe.  Be there, stunned and clueless and disbelieving.  Everyone who is trying to comfort you says, oh, being there counts!  That is what you can do!  I guess.  But it’s throwing rose petals in the abyss.  Except it’s not even rose petals.  It’s dead toads or dandruff or anthrax or something.

Alcestis is in a specialist unit and it’s too far for me to drive, and I’m dependent on Admetus to give me a lift—but he’s a friend too, and they’re neighbours.  I blast over there five or ten (or fifteen) minutes later than I said I’d get there, and he does the driving.   I like to imagine that having someone in the car with him sometimes—he’s quite the taxi service, is our Admetus, bless him—is maybe a bit comforting, or grounding, or something.  I have really NO IDEA how he’s doing.  He’s a BRITISH MALE.  I assume he’s still eating, although he’s got awfully thin and he wasn’t exactly portly to begin with.  The unit Alcestis is in will feed a spouse or one other designated person for the big holidays, and they came round with the New Year’s Day dinner menus today while I was there doing my sitting and breathing thing—and in my case knitting:  my knitting is not improving with practise—and I was looking at Admetus looking at the menu and wanted to say to the nurses ‘make sure he eats too, okay?’

It’s a nice place, as far as places where people go to die are ever nice.  The nurses are kind and thoughtful and engaged:  they’re all over Admetus as he comes in, and a couple of them even recognise me.  There’s free tea and coffee (okay, and a donation box), and a big lounge-sitting-room-waiting-room space with comfy chairs and tables and books, and a computer with a selection of all-ages games.  They keep Alcestis clean and comfortable.  She’s just barely there any more and . . . drifting . . . farther . . . away.

Today the doctor took Admetus aside and said that hopes/plans to be able to send Alcestis home after the holidays, when they’d be up to full staff strength again for the amount of home care she’d need, were, barring miracles, permanently shelved and that . . . the unit is set up for a spouse or partner to spend the night there:  he might want to know that.  He might want to consider. . . . When we got back to New Arcadia tonight he gave me the domestic fauna care drill and he’ll text me if I need to step in.  There was a little austere hilarity at the outrage the capybaras, sugar gliders and wallabies are going to feel at being put abruptly on my schedule rather than Admetus’.  He gets up at about 6 a.m. most mornings.  I suppose I could go round and feed and do a quick sweep last thing before I go to bed. . . .

They’re rerunning the last night of the Proms on Radio 3 tonight.  Last night of the Proms live was mid September, and Alcestis was still alert and walking (slowly) and interested in the world and having opinions about the books she read.

And to everyone who is reading this:  make time to get together with your friends, and do stuff, or just hang out, drink tea, loan each other books.  Or if geography is against you—and I know a lot about that—talk on the phone, email, text, Skype.   Stay in touch.**  Time is a whole lot shorter than you think.

Tonight’s glass of champagne is to you, honey, Alcestis, my old friend.

 

* * *

* Another thing about holidays is the way people go on them leaving their social-welfare charities short-handed.  And falling prey to the common philosophy of wretchedness that if you can’t do anything for you and yours maybe you can do some damn thing for a stranger, I’ve picked up a few extra shifts here and there to the extent that I’ve had one or two lectures from older hands about taking care of myself.  OH SHUT UP.  Okay, yes, I know, and I appreciate the concern and understand why they’re having a word, but I’m at least conscious of what I’m doing and as soon as the holidays are over with I’ll revert to being the volunteer-organisation version of assistant bottle-washer.  But whatever your flavour of belief^ or disbelief, the end of year holiday season and all the jolly consumerism, I mean family and friendship and togetherness, tend to magnify anything that’s less than fabulous in your individual life, so social services get a bit strained.  The less than fabulous would include me and mine of course.  But being a do gooder at least means you have somewhere to put some of the sorrow and frustration.

^ Although just by the way the tendency for Christmas to be presented in Christian churches in all its blue-skies-and-fluffy-bunnies splendour MAKES ME CRAZY.  YO.  THAT KID YOU’RE WORSHIPPING IS GOING TO DIE HORRIBLY IN THIRTY-THREE YEARS+ AND THERE’S A CRUCIFIX HANGING OVER THE ALTAR, YES, EVEN AT CHRISTMAS, POSSIBLY TO REMIND YOU OF THIS TINY FACTOID??  As one might say, Jesus.  There’s a dark despairing edge even at Christmas, a shadow behind the joy.  Welcoming this baby should break your heart, and if it doesn’t you’re not paying attention.++

+ Or about four months, depending on how you’re counting.  This is only my third Easter coming up and I already want a year off.#

# I think I said that last year.  Easter is hard.~

~ And it has nothing to do with fluffy bunnies, chocolate or otherwise.

++ Some of the carols get this right.  When I’m experiencing a worse than usual brain failure day, the verse I can never forget is from We Three Kings:  Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume/ breathes a life of gathering gloom/  Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying/ Sealed in a stone-cold tomb.  Elsewhere it refers to King and God and sacrifice.  Um, yeah.  Stay with it.   And Christmases like this one for me, it’s exactly like my monk said:  he died also so none of us ever has to suffer alone.

I still think it’s a total fucker of a system.  When I get to heaven# I’m going to start a petition.

# And remember we all do, eventually, whatever ‘heaven’ turns out to be and whatever petitioning options there are.

** Which I’m doing a lousy job of with everyone else in my life.  Because I’m too sunk in being bad company.  Sigh.  Do as I say, not as I do, okay?

 

 

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