Jeremy Clarke finds his entrance hall thronged with undertakersby Jeremy Clarke / November 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Things came to a sudden and unexpected head in our residential home for the elderly last month. In just over four dramatic weeks, three of our ladies died and one went mad and had to go to an “assessment unit.” In a large nursing home, a trio of deaths occurring close so together might not be unusual; but ours is small, only eight ladies when full, most of whom have been with us for so long they feel like part of the family. For a while our entrance hall, with its stuffed birds, its portrait of Napoleon and the tapestry depicting an angel appearing to John Bunyan, seemed permanently thronged with undertakers, doctors, and relatives carrying away furniture.
First to go was Mrs Lock. She was 100 years old and had been with us for six years. Mrs Lock had a very short-term memory. This meant that everything was always new and exciting to her. When I took up her breakfast in bed-which our ladies have every morning of the year-the conversation would always go as follows:
“Good morning, Mrs Lock” (this shouted, as she couldn’t hear a thing without her hearing aid).
“Oo! Breakfast in bed? Lovely.”
After she had sat up and I had pushed the bed-table across her lap, she would look at me a little shyly and ask, “What am I doing here?”
“You live here, Mrs Lock,” I would say. “You have been living here for six years.”
She would recoil in disbelief at this incredible information, and gasp: “Have I really!” Then, after a brief review of some of the implications of this new and surprising situation, she would ask: “Any duties?”
Like several of our other ladies, Mrs Lock was prone to auditory hallucinations. Fortunately, for such a devout and lifelong Christian, hers consisted chiefly of pealing church bells and heavenly choirs. We knew this because, although normally a silent lady, she would sometimes comment on how lovely the choir was sounding today, or enquire why the church bells were being continually rung.
Her quiet self-containment was often lit by a conspiratorial smile, as if she did not quite know what the joke was, but was sure she would find it amusing if somebody would care to share it with her. And if anyone’s false teeth went missing, Mrs Lock’s mouth was always a good place to start looking, for she was…