It’s 6:40am. A few minutes ago I was standing in the foyer of a private hospital ward. I had my hand on the shoulder of a man who I’d never met before. He walked into the empty foyer while I was taking a break and burst into tears. He sobbed for a minute or so as I gently rubbed his shoulder, then he turned and thanked me warmly saying “My wife just died 10 minutes ago”.
We talked for a while and he shared some of his story… his wife was diagnosed with cancer just 2 months ago… it advanced very rapidly and she had just passed away. I was able to empathize sharing a little of my story saying I too had lost my wife to cancer just 18 months ago.
I asked him if he had people around him to provide support… he has a strong family with him tonight and belongs to a supportive church. It turns out that both of us have spent decades living not far from one another in Melbourne and both of us have sisters in the same Victorian country town.
We exchanged names, shook hands warmly, and it was time to finish. Ron returned to his family in the hospital room where his wife was laying… it’s right next door to the room where I’ve just spent the night trying to sleep in a recliner chair next to my beautiful 96 year old step mum Dot.
My stepmum Dot
I’m here because Dot has reached the final stages of her life. She had a ‘turn’ a few days ago and was transferred to hospital. The nursing home staff advised us she was “unlikely to leave hospital”.
Dot is a very special woman and I love her dearly. She was the best thing that ever happened in my Dad’s life after losing my Mum.
I’m so glad I’ve been here for the night. It is a privilege to give one night of my life back to a woman who never tried to take the place of my own mother (who died when I was 8 years old) but nonetheless loved me and has been a very close friend for over 40 years.
For the most of the night Dot has been calm and peaceful, sleeping on and off. But every few hours she has grimaced and drawn up her legs, both clear signs of pain. She has also got herself tangled up in the sheets and blankets in the process. Each time I’ve been able to alert the staff who’ve come promptly to provide pain relief and make her comfortable again.
At one point she sat up and tried to get out of bed. She got her legs out between the side rails and ended up stuck precariously on the edge of the bed with her bare feet on the cold floor! I’m so glad I was here to call the staff to untangle her from the bed and settle her down again… they’ve been flat out with two emergencies for much of the night and Dot could have been stuck in this dire position for quite some time before someone came to check her on their delayed rounds. She is no longer able to speak or press the call button to alert staff herself.
Death and Life
Life can be incredibly tough but incredibly rich at the same time… sometimes we just have to be there, other times we are called unexpectedly to step outside our comfort zone to reach a loving hand out to others, and may receive a blessing in return.
If we don’t say goodbye to Dot today it will certainly be in the next few days and a very precious relationship will end.
But life goes on and the day we lose someone close to us, a new person who will become a close friend may enter our lives. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll bump into Ron again and a whole new friendship will begin.