My mother was placed into palliative care at the end. This not about my mother but about a stranger she shared a room with for a very brief time at the very end of her life. For those of you who do not know what palliative care is, first count yourselves fortunate, it is where you are placed when there is no hope of recovery. The doctors try to make you as comfortable as possible and let nature take it’s course.
The room my mother was placed in had two beds, was cut down the middle, each side having curtains you could pull closed for some degree of privacy. The bed across from my mother was occupied by a woman. I cannot tell you her age as she seemed to be in the late stages of lung cancer which had taken a heavy effect on her physical appearance. I say lung cancer, this is total assumption on my behalf, as I never spoke directly to the woman. But the cough. The cough is what I remember most about her. It came from so deep, it was the kind of cough that hurt me all the way across the room. I cannot begin to imagine the pain that must have been inflicted by a cough like that. You could hear her trying to reach for the next breath in order to hang onto her very life.
Every time I went to visit my mother, which was quite often, a man sat beside the woman’s bed. He was a well dressed man in his early 50’s perhaps. He would sit quietly while she slept. When she was awake he would speak with her, feed her, hold her when she finished one of her coughing spells. My mother informed me that he was always there, he did not leave. He washed her and changed her, took her to the bathroom. Through all of this, I never saw the gentleman get anxious or agitated, he always looked cheerful, hopeful, calm. He would nod to me when I entered the room, aside from that his attention was 100% on the coughing woman. There were never any other visitors, just him. At night they would close the curtain and I could hear him whispering to her.
Then one day I went to visit my mother and the bed across the room was empty. My mother told me that they had come in and taken her away.
That night the man came into the room, alone. He began to pack up the few belongings that were there. He didn’t cry, I do not think he could. He slowly went about his business. The hope on his face was gone, it looked like there was nothing at all left in him.
He left with a small suitcase and I remember thinking ‘who will take care of him when it’s his turn?’