Sunday, 29 January 2012

Bert Isn't With Us Anymore

Once a week I go to the nursing home and spend an hour with my Nana. I’ll probably blog a bit about it one day – it’s a very special time for me.

 Usually she’s eating her meal in the dining room and I sit with her and three of her friends before wheeling her down to her room. We have a good old natter about all sorts – as one does with grannies. These grannies are pretty no-nonsense, straightforward ladies who live with enthusiasm and have a knack for finding small joys in unexpected places. They’ve had their share of triumphs and failures and generally they aren’t backward about coming forward when it comes to sharing their opinions. I’ve found them to be a wonderful and supportive group and I love them a lot and I’m proud to be their friend.

 A couple of weeks ago however, it was more than a little bit weird. I was walking down the corridor, pushing Nana back to her room, accompanied by one of her table-mates (let’s call her Mrs D).
We went past a bed out in the corridor, the room obviously being stripped and cleaned out in preparation for a new resident.

“Yes,” said Mrs D, indicating the bed “Bert isn’t with us anymore.”

“That’s a shame,” I said, thinking Bert must have died and wondering why the home hadn’t lowered the flag to half mast like they normally do when a resident dies.

“He’s up there you know,” said Mrs D, indicating with a vague wave of her hand.

“Oh, right,” I replied, a bit lost for words because I’m starting to get really puzzled about the euphemisms – generally when they’re giving me the gossip they just said “So-and-so passed away yesterday.”

Mrs D went on “He doesn’t like it up there much, but he kept running about the carpark and the staff had to do something with him and it was the only solution.”

By this time I was starting to wonder which of us had gone insane and I was really, really hoping like mad that poor Bert wasn’t dead after all because it seems to be a very drastic way for the staff to solve his running about the carpark problem.

It turns out that Bert is now in the locked ward “up there” at the other end of the retirement home complex. It’s sad he doesn’t like it there, but thankfully he’s no longer running about the carpark at risk of being hit by a car.

It was a funny conversation and I’d totally misunderstood and we had a good old giggle about it afterwards. It did give me some food for thought.

I’ve lost a few people over the years and explaining those deaths to my kids wasn’t (still isn’t) an easy thing. I’ve tried hard to avoid the “going to sleep” phrase just in case it makes the kids terrified of bedtime. Other than that I talk about the way life has a beginning and an ending and the living is the bit in the middle. Sometimes a body is so broken or so tired it just can’t keep working anymore.

Death is a weird thing. People struggle to understand death and I suppose it’s easier to hide the subject rather than keep struggling. We avoid talking about death, we avoid thinking about death, and when death shoves itself into our faces and we can’t avoid it anymore, we use a plethora of clichés, euphemisms and hedge words in the hope that we can somehow disguise death.

Then so many of us go and watch explosive shoot-em-up movies on tv without a second thought.

In the cause (curse?) of insatiable curiosity I have decided to start a list of words and phrases that people use to avoid talking about death directly. Enquiring minds want to know. If you hear any weird ones, feel free to send them through.

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