On Friday – precisely two weeks, almost to the minute, that my mum had rung to say my dad had suffered a heart attack – my mum rang to tell me that my Grandad Norman – my dad’s dad – was dying.
An hour later, Mum and I were at the care home where Grandad has lived since his dementia took over. He was twisted in bed, fighting a fever, clawing at the sheets, muttering incomprehensibly. We took a hand each and tried to calm him, telling him to sleep, please sleep, but he was beyond sleep. The carers wheeled in a poetically named palliative trolley, with candles and a stereo playing supposedly soothing music, but it did nothing except highlight the fact that candles and a stereo playing supposedly soothing music do not help in the slightest when you’re dying a slow, agonising death.
That was Friday. Today is Wednesday. For six days my Grandad has hung to life, desperately and painfully. He fought the fever. God knows how, but he fought the fever. When the nurse told me, early on Sunday morning, that he’d fought the fever and could well recover, I was all, like, WOOHOO, but then remembered the dementia that had stolen Grandad from us years ago, and it felt like a slim victory. Recovered to WHAT? To a life half-lived?
By Tuesday – after days without food, and only sucking water from a sponge-topped lolly stick – Grandad was unrecognisable. He writhed in pain, pulling his knees up and holding his head, his mouth opened wide in a futile scream. His hands, which had held mine just a few days before, could no longer grip, and had turned an unhealthy shade of purple. There was no flesh left on his poor, fragile body. My mum kneeled next to him on the floor – they’d lowered his bed because he kept falling out – and stroked his hollowed face, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
I was furious. I tried to focus on the few photos on the shelf in his room – his children, his grandchildren, his great grandchildren – but they made me angrier. This man – this proud, hardworking man – was living out his final hours in abject horror, and we – the people who loved him – were supposed to just watch? It’s wasn’t right. It wasn’t dignified, it wasn’t humane, and it wasn’t right.
My grandad continues to grip flimsily on to life. A morphine drip has provided him with some stillness, but he continues to simply exist. There’s no other word for it. He’s not at peace and nor are we.
The image of his purple hands, the sight of his mouth opened in pain, the sweet, sour smell in that room – these are the things I’ll remember about my Grandad. I won’t remember the sweets he bought me, the TV shows we watched together, the German he taught me. I’ll remember his hands, his face, that smell. And that’s not right. This is not right.
Sleep peacefully now Grandad. Please, sleep peacefully.