This week began with International Women’s Day, which passed quietly in my family because we are recovering from a very traumatic time. Late last year my uncle deteriorated and finally lost his battle with brain cancer. The whole family managed to visit him both in the hospital and the hospice where he spent his last days. At around the same time our grandad (and my uncle’s dad) began to fade away. He was in and out of hospital, and with each visit we thought it was his last. He was a military man, however, and I believe that he had trained his body to withstand the worst kind of strain, which explains why he finally passed away last week, almost four months since he began the decline towards death.
Today I want to celebrate the strong women in my family (myself included), who have helped support each other and those people who died. I learned about death midwifery from books, although I can’t tell you where exactly I found the phrase. It basically means supporting someone as they die, much the same as midwives in hospital support mothers as they bring new life into the world. I think in Western society we have forgotten how to celebrate older people, and when they become frail and ill, we leave them in the care of health professionals and tell ourselves that’s the best we can do. Not my family. My Nan has nursed Grandad for over ten years, and they were together for 66 years. She was devoted to him, even though they frequently argued. Their love for each other was clearly obvious, no matter what trivial incidents might put them at odds. The past four months or so have been exhausting for my Nan, and for my mum and my aunts. My cousins also helped with the passing of our uncle and our grandad, as did our other uncle (by marriage). We are a big family!
Watching my family members nursing the dying and the elderly has touched me in ways that I cannot explain. All those strong women (and men, not forgetting our uncle and male cousins) are brilliant for the unrecognised work that they do for family and beyond. My Nan refused to send grandad to a care home in his final months because she was determined to be with him to the bitter end. Perhaps she pushed herself too far, but I know that she is proud and satisfied that she did her job as wife and mother. Now she can grieve for her lost son and her husband, and we can all come to terms with a new family dynamic. It is not easy to care for a dying person. There are the practical elements of physical care, assisting with personal hygiene and feeding, administering medicine, and then there are the emotional and mental implications. I won’t give the gory details out of respect for my family, but they all worked very hard to ensure that Grandad and Uncle Bill were not alone when they finally passed away. And I am very thankful that they were able to do that.
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