It’s been a very strange day. I am not sure I will ever post this. It is very personal. Here is how it went:
In recent mornings I have woken, noted that the time is after 7am, there’s been no call from the hospice and have relaxed: “J is still OK”. Today they caught me out, the call from Nurse Mary came after 9am – they knew we’d been late home last night, they had washed Juliet early and noted yet another change in breathing. She advised that I should come in (we’d intended to anyway of course). We didn’t race in, but I didn’t let Lucy have any toast and we were at KH by 9:30.
Juliet was asleep, breathing fast, her head to one side. She looked comfortable. We told her all about yesterday. Guinea-pigs were part of the discussion; it seems that the incoming piggies are to be named after Shakespeare characters, first on the list is “Hamlet”. It was a lot of fun. There were a few eyelid flickers from J, a very few. We noted that her fingertips were dark blue. When I moved round the other side of the bed, I could see that her arms were extremely mottled, and quite cool to the touch. Loss of circulation. Over the last few days she has been losing the puffiness in the face, and quite probably losing weight elsewhere. I called Margaret and suggested she come in. It transpired that she had visited yesterday afternoon with Alex, and then Phil & Sharon had visited by themselves in the evening.
A lady came in to check on J – it was Dr Sally whom I had not met before. I didn’t realize she was a doctor until afterwards. Margaret arrived, and was initially upset to see J. After a while I sent the girls out to the lounge and talked to Margaret. We had been doing this a while until midday when I noticed J’s breathing had changed – short, very shallow breaths, with a long 10-15 second pause in between them. I called the girls back in. Margaret held her right hand, I held her left. At 12:15 pm, Margaret said what we all knew: “her breathing’s stopped”.
I went out to tell nurse Andrea. There was no rush now. We stood around for a few minutes. For the first time, the tower of strength called Lucy was visibly upset, but then so was Alice. Margaret and I went out for a brief word with nurse Andrea about procedures but I was uneasy about leaving the girls alone in the room with J so we returned as soon as we could. Apparently they appreciated it (being with their mum). Nurse Mary came in, apologized and said “there is some food for you if you’d like it”. None of us did, but we went up to the deserted out-patients dining area and were swiftly served a roast chicken lunch. I was very glad we ate it, it gave us some energy and meant we didn’t have to think about cooking for the rest of the day.
Back in the room, the nurses were discreetly rearranging J in bed but gave us some privacy. I removed her heart necklace and her rings: the eternity ring that I gave her on 25 Oct 2007 to mark 25 years since we’d met, her engagement ring and her wedding ring. Later I remembered to retrieve her favourite aboriginal-style ring on her right hand that she’d bought in Sydney in 2005.
We perfunctorily tidied up some of her belongings, just for something to do, mainly the photos and other items of sentimental value. I kissed her cold cheek and said “I’ve always loved you”, which prompted some brief tears, otherwise I’d been doing quite well.
We sent Margaret home to tell Richard in person. I told my Mum on the phone. At our house I did a two-liner entry on the blog (At the shore) once I knew Margaret had told the immediate relatives. Alice doodled a picture of a tree, guinea-pigs and chinchillas. Then we travelled to Oxford, for their company as much as anything else. I went out for a Sunday newspaper. I still have Saturday’s newspaper bundle, unread, but I want something to show the grandchildren what was going on in the world the day she died, Sunday 7th August 2011.
We looked at old photos and slides, ranging from J as a young girl to ones of me and J that I don’t remember seeing before. I was amazed; foolishly I forget that other people had cameras too, and there are other photographic records of J’s life. I am going to have my work cut out scanning photos and slides over the next weeks. We all liked this.
Tea was a pot of tea and lots of cake. I was restless at teatime, I got up and wandered around. I looked at a photo of J on the mantelpiece and that set me off crying like a baby. It’s amazing where it comes from. I started writing a “to-do” list.
We went home, the emails were flowing in and the first sympathy letter came through the door. News travels fast (on cue, my iPhone bleeps for an incoming email). Lucy watched an athletics meeting on the BBC iPlayer, Alice read then went to bed, and I typed this.
A couple of days ago I noticed that there are a few dead leaves on Juliet’s tree.