The Long Goodbye

December 16, 2010

My dear Mum died in the nursing home today.

She has gone to a better place.

Rest in Peace, Mum

In respect to my mother, no comments will be facilitated on this post.

A Better Place

August 27, 2008

I knew the moment I walked into the dementia unit at the nursing home that something had changed. My mother was up and dressed and sitting in her wheelchair beside the window. I settled down beside her to chat and it was only then that I realised what was different… one of the long term residents was missing and her possessions were all neatly piled on top of her bed. Poor Hannah* had died during the night.

The other residents of the unit were all sitting staring into space as per normal and while they appeared oblivious to the fact that one of their own was no more, a sombre mood was palpable. Looking at them sitting in silence, I found it hard not to ponder over who’s turn it will be next… for that is the reality of this unit.

Alzheimer patients slowly fade away, it’s like a living death as bit by bit they withdraw from the world. The staff of this unit are very supportive of the families. We are like one big family who are on a difficult journey together and everyone supports one another. When a bereavement occurs, it affects everyone in the unit.

When Hannah’s family arrived to collect her belongings this afternoon, the sense of togetherness was powerful. We all hugged and shed a few tears and remembered the good times together. We’ve come to know each other well over the years and today’s farewell was a reminder that one day my turn will also come, to say goodbye.

My mother is one of the few residents in this unit that can still hold a conversation although she has great difficulty processing her thoughts. She loves to listen to the staff chatting as they work and will occasionally chip in with her penny’s worth.

Today, when I was discussing Hannah’s demise with the staff, my mother suddenly joined in and asked “well, is she better yet“?

I looked at her and smiled. “Hannah’s in a better place now, Mum, don’t you worry” and she smiled back at me happily.

Rest in Peace, Hannah.

* denotes a name change.

Design and Dignity

June 20, 2008

I attended a public lecture in Dublin last night as part of the Hospice friendly Hospitals (HfH) programme. The subject matter was ‘Design and Dignity’ the case for renewing our hospitals. The Irish Hospice Foundation has launched a unique national programme to mainstream hospice principles in all areas of hospital practice relating to care for the dying and bereaved. The lecture while enlightening, succeeded in emphasising the major deficiencies that exist in Irish hospitals but it was good to hear that attitudes are changing.

Professor Roger Ulrich, Director of Centre for Health Systems and Design in Texas, delivered a long lecture outlining the evidence based design principles that should be incorporated into all future hospital developments. Steps such as improving visibility of patients, providing single bed rooms, reducing noise levels, and introducing nature and art to the hospital environment, have all been shown to reduce stress for the patient. This is all very laudable stuff but it seemed a million miles away from the reality of the Irish Health Service where patients consider themselves lucky to even get a hospital bed and where cross-infection is a major problem due to overcrowding. Janette Byrne, spokesperson for ‘Patients Together‘ took to the floor and told the audience that what Prof Ulrich was talking about was “just a dream for Irish patients.” Janette, who is herself recovering from cancer, stated “I live more in fear of the Health Service than I do of my cancer” and for me, that really said it all last night.

We have a long way to go to make our hospitals more user friendly in this country. Irish hospitals are a very long way off meeting the needs of patients, families and staff in relation to dying, death and bereavement. The HfH programme aims to change the culture of care in our hospitals so that people can die with dignity. This programme is not about blaming and shaming, it is a challenge to us all to ensure that a better service will be provided. The chairman of the night, Gabriel Byrne, challenged us all to “imagine” a future where our hospitals would provide dignity in dying, and to “have hope.”

Blog Post of the Month

May 12, 2008

The Irish Blog Awards under the able leadership of Damien Mulley, have come up with another great idea.

“As a way of keeping interest going in the Blog Awards, there will be a “Blog Post of the Month” awarded to an Irish Blogger/Group of Bloggers who has/have written what the judges deem the best post that month.”

And here is my nomination for this award:

I have no hesitation whatsoever in nominating Grannymar for her post The light went out.

This post quite simply blew me away. In fact, judging by the comments, everyone who’s read it was blown away. It touched the hearts of all, young and old and indeed many of us were reduced to tears.

Grannymar wrote this post on the tenth anniversary of the death of her husband, Jack. It is a beautiful tribute written with great courage, wisdom, honesty, grace and enormous love.

By writing about her loss, Grannymar has overcome the taboo surrounding death and dying and I’ve no doubt that her words will help to ease the journey of others through bereavement. She also deals brilliantly with the thorny subject of the insensitivity shown by some people on meeting a bereaved person. She reminds us to be careful of what we say as ill-chosen words can be very hurtful when emotions are raw. But most of all, Grannymar illustrates beautifully how the human spirit can overcome adversity and begin to find joy in life once more. She is truly inspirational and her daughter, Elly can rightly be very proud of her.

I highly recommend you pop over to Grannymar’s to share in this uplifting post but don’t forget to bring some tissues. It’s moving stuff!

This post truly deserves to win a Blog Post of the Month Award.