My friend J. has died.
Those of you following this story recently will know that there was no other possible outcome.
She died two weeks ago, just one week after I managed to get her some medical help.
She was so happy with her nurses and the help in the house and felt safe and secure. The Dr. thought she had a few more weeks.
I had a few days away scheduled which had been booked months ago, and was going with a friend who had been recently bereaved. I was feeling anxious about going and did not want to let either friend down. However, J. had lots of people coming in and out, and seemed very settled as far as possible given her physical symptoms. I last spoke to her on the Tuesday and she was up, dressed and seemed to be doing very well given the circumstances, so I left, feeling reasonably happy. She died on the following Friday when I was in Germany.
A mutual friend, D had been in to see her that morning and J’s niece said that she had gone down hill very rapidly. D. txted me to let me know that the end was close which was thoughtful of her.
And then began the madness:-
I txted the niece to sympathise and send my love to J if she was conscious enough to receive it. In response I received a rather brusque reply wanting to know only who had told me. Some hours later another txt followed with the news that she had died.
After that I received lots of txts both from the niece and another close friend of J both telling me that they had had a severe quarrel, and wanting to let me know their side of it and saying how upset they both were. I did my best to be conciliatory to both and remind them of how strongly and differently people react to grief. After a couple of days when the txts were still coming and now I was being asked where papers etc were in the house I grew irritated: they both knew I was abroad. So I replied a little curtly that there was nothing I could do until I returned.
I did my best not to spoil my other friend’s trip but I must admit that I was sad and rather pre-occupied.
The bare facts were these:
The Undertaker had been contacted and arrangements made to collect J’s body, all before she was dead.
Her cat had been sent to the RSPCA while J was still alive though another friend said she had found it a home and others were coming in daily to see to it. J had gained great comfort from it sleeping on her bed but her niece thought this was a dirty thing to allow.
Her niece and family left J while she was still alive and went back to their house a couple of hours away, so J died without friends or family present, but luckily with the lovely nurse still there. No friends had been contacted to ask if they would like to be with J while she died.
All other friends who have spoken to me say they were positively discouraged from calling.
Now, viewed from different angles there can be alternative readings of these facts. And I always begin from the premise that most people mean well even if they do not always make the best decisions. I have been given totally conflicting interpretations of these facts and one friend is now frightened of some of J’s relatives having sent some extremely ill-judged comments and made some highly-charged and accusatory phone calls. I was not there for which I am really sorry because no-one would have intimidated me in those circumstances (if this is what happened) or made me stay away. However, I am staying neutral and trying to mop up what I can. J is no longer around and I can do nothing for the poor cat. J was well looked after and whatever happened can only have occurred over three days, during which her downward spiral was clearly devastatingly quick. But – how sad.
J and her family belonged to a small Christian sect, although she never proselytized. In this sect no burial service takes place but family and only the closest friends gather around the grave and the men only say some prayers and do some readings. They do not have ministers. I was grateful to be invited to this burial. I needed to see J laid to rest.
A Memorial Service had been organized to take place after the burial and I was asked if I would like to sit with the family for this, which was very kind.
Although I and several other of J’s friends were dreading the whole day, and especially not having a burial service, we had keyed ourselves up for it. It was to take place last Friday.
On the Thursday I rang the niece to ask for the name of the Undertaker to make sure that I met them all at the right place and time. I also wanted to find out whether it would be possible for me to go and say goodbye to J at the Funeral Parlour, but was told that it was not possible. I found out the details of the burial and on the Friday went up an hour and a half ahead of time to make sure i knew the place and found where to meet everyone. Then I went for a quick coffee. I should have taken a hip flask.
At the appointed time I was at the entrance, car parked and nerves braced. For the first 15 minutes when they did not appear I put it down to traffic problems. After 25 minutes I began to worry that somehow things had gone wrong but did not like to ring J’s niece in case they were in the middle of prayers somewhere. I rang the Undertaker but got no answer. I finally txted the niece after 40 minutes after they were due asking whether there was a problem. No answer, but that was not surprising. After 50 minutes I managed to get through to the Undertaker. He said that the burial was all over and done with and now everyone was at the church hall for the Memorial Service which I could attend if I wanted.
Naturally I queried the information they had given me the previous day, getting more upset as the conversation continued. He said that I was at the wrong entrance and no hearses could go in there. I said that it was exactly as he had described and it was a wide metalled road and anyway how could I know where hearses went, i was not an Undertaker. He was most dismissive and appeared not to care by which time I must admit to being distraught. I had missed being with J when she died, in controversial circumstances, and now had missed seeing her laid to rest, apparently due to further misinformation and lack of communication. I had no idea even of where her grave was.
I’m ashamed to say that I collapsed completely in tears. In this state I did not even feel I could go to the Memorial Service: it was about J, not me, and entering in my present state would cause some comment. There was no time to go home or find somewhere to pull myself together, since the Service was starting at that moment. So I missed that too.
Driving through a torrent of tears I took myself out of the city, through the country lanes and past J’s little cottage and home to have a good cry.
Later that day D rang me to see why I was not at the Service and she was crying saying she had not liked the Service and that it was not really about J, at least not the J we knew and loved. People spoke from the church who had not really known her, nobody seemed to have asked any questions about her to make it personal, and mostly the comments were about the Sect and their beliefs with several references to the fact that now J’s body was ‘rotting’. “Although the room was full of love for J somehow it was not made apparent or given voice in the Service itself”. We know that the niece said they were not close because of the actions of others, but it seems so strange not to have asked J’s friends for anecdotes or facts about her life. Several things said were quite wrong. In fact D said it was a good thing I had not been there.
So there we are. D and I feel very lost and rather ‘up in the air’ having no real conclusion or resolution to the end of our friendship with J. We are going to the Cemetery this week to search for her grave and then we will leave our own flowers, say our own things, have a bit of a cry and then go for a coffee.
Somehow, it all seems of a piece: the months of misinformation, lack of communication and denial ending like this. I seem to have been in a maze trying to get through to obtain the necessary help and support for my friend who seemed to deny needing it. There is nobody to blame: just differing beliefs, controversial and conflicting ‘medical’ opinions and lots of denial. And perhaps some lack of empathy and imagination on the part of some. I’m not sure I will ever really understand people.
NB While I was in Germany I was in Berlin. One evening we managed to buy last minute tickets to the Berlin Philharmonic, sitting in the ‘gods’. It was an evening of rare playing and enthusiasm, quite extraordinarily wonderful. There was a cello concerto and for an encore the soloist played a piece of Bach that J had taught me. Since she had just died I sat there in tears. Perhaps that was really when I said goodbye to her and the rest I should just let go.
(Photo from http://tigorrejones.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/this-is-what-i-want-to-be.html)
Read Full Post »