Sunday 16 January 2011

Sad end to a bad week

Las week was a bad week, for lots of reasons (I won't go into them; too depressing at this time of year). The culmination was a visit to my 94-year-old uncle David, about whom I've written before.

But to start at the beginning (of yesterday). Being a bad week, yesterday had to have a bad start. We got into the car to find the battery was completely flat. Jump leads. That's what we needed. So I went into into the pub, and asked the nice landlord. Yes. He had jump leads, he said, reluctantly putting down his bacon butty, and fetching them. We weren't at all sure how to use them (I know. Sad, isn't it?) so Andy from the antique shop brought his van round. Then we couldn't find the battery (tho' we did manage to open the bonnet) - even sadder - but pub landlord and Andy managed to, after a brief seach (it was hidden under a kind of lid), and off we went.

Long, tedious journey. Only 56 miles, but it takes 1 hor 40 minutes because of country roads, sheep all over the road (some of it was New Forest, and the sheep were not it a hurry). That kind of thing. And we finally arrrived, having missed the pub lunch we'd promised ourselves, as we'd run out of time.

And my uncle....Is there anything sadder than seeing a bright, forceful, proud man reduced to a state where he has little idea of who we are (and not much idea of who he is, either). He is also very deaf, so conversation was limited. I always take a thick felt marker and lots of paper, so that I can write things down, but he had trouble reading and understanding what I'd written. Once or twice, there were glimmers of the old David; of humour and mischief and authority. But mostly it was a matter of trying to follow his thread and stay with that, whatever it was. Last week apparently people came from the church with guitars and tambourines and flags for the residents to wave. David refused to wave his flag. Good for him. What makes people think it's ok to treat adult human beings like small children, whatever their mental state? This is a man who as a boy sang in the choir of St. George's Chapel, Windsor; who was sometimes taken up to the castle to sing to the king and queen in private. He still knows what music he likes and what he doesn't. He is not a different person; just the same person changed, which is not at all the same thing. His tastes and his basic inclinations are the same. I know these things are kindly meant, but they are not appropriate. It is all so desperately sad.

There is no solution. We - and he - just soldier on. I have no idea what goes on in his head, but whatever it is, it is fragments of what he was - of committees he was on, of people he once knew, of experiences he once had - not an entirely new state. So I shall continue to treat him as the uncle who used to give me half-crowns, and who, later on, took me to Glyndebourne, made a speech at my wedding, took my small sons to buy smart jackets for their father's funeral. And hope, for his sake, that he doesn't have to carry on like this for too much longer.


  1. Frances, it is so desperately sad to see somebody so reduced from what they were in their prime. I don't suppose he wants it all to go on like this much longer, either. Sorry you've had such a bad week - I hope this one coming up is an improvement.

  2. Thanks, Teresa.

    Hi, Alis. I think he's past wanting anything (or knowing what he wants). WhatI want is for him to be allowed to die with what dignity he has left. But each time he becomes ill, They bung him full of antibiotics, and for what? But thanks for the good wishes. I'll write a cheerier post next time!

  3. I hope this week gives you more to smile about, Frances. I know this situation with your dear uncle is huge burden on your emotions.

  4. Frances - hugs. Hopefully your uncle maintains his 'world' and their world doesn't intrude too much.


  5. What a terrible situation, Frances. Your very moving posts about him as he was keep his prime alive for a little longer; but as you say, there is only one conclusion and it will be a mercy for everyone when it arrives.

    It puts society's obsession with longer and longer lives into perspective.

  6. Thanks, everyone. The sad thing is that all this started when he was found unconscious in his own chair at home. If only he hadn't been found...And you're right, Tim. We keep people alive far too long. My children have strict instructions foro me - lots of morphine (lovely!), fluids, but no resusciation*. With three doctors in the family, I hope they'll manage to get it right!

    *But not yet. Life isn't that bad!