Thursday, 22 January 2015

Love & Death


I took the body of the egret over to the badger run early this morning and left it there for the big sow to eat when she's up and around . It'll hardly make a mouthful .
The beauty of this little bird had totally evaporated sometime during the night and what was left was a few feather scraps and a pair of odd looking yellow feet.

It's that certain " life force" that gives any living thing  beauty.
Look at this photo of Jessie Gallen
At 109 she is Scotland's oldest woman
She's just as beautiful as that delicate little egret appeared yesterday afternoon.


I was 21 when I first administered the " last Offices" to a patient, I must have done it hundreds and hundreds of times since
The elderly man had lived seventy years of his life in an asylum .
He had no family, no friends and had a life devoid of the normal happiness's that the rest of us take for granted. 
He had no belongings to speak of and even his clothes were picked from the generic clothes store and I remember feeling incredibly sad at the overwhelming " emptiness " of a life not lived.
A nicotine stained enrolled nurse in her sixties had the job of talking me through the procedure of " 
laying out" , a job , I am glad to say, she took incredibly seriously.
She showed me how to shave the patient, wash him with a reverence he deserved and dress him carefully in a shroud . We combed his hair precisely then wrapped the body in a sheet, securing the last fold over his face with a safety pin and a gentle comment of " good night"

When we had finished, the enrolled nurse lit a cigarette and took a big drag of it.
Sensing I was still a bit shaken by the whole experience , she offered me a fag which I refused,  then shared with me her own personal philosophy on the situation.
" Every life is important" she said carefully ......."no matter how it is lived..remember that fact" 
That was in November 1983 on Irby Ward at the West Cheshire Hospital 
 I have never forgotten it.




113 comments:

  1. I can remember my first day on a medical ward. This was 1970; and just before my shift finished we had two deaths. I was pushed straight in and assisted with last offices for one of the patients. I have always remembered with what love and care the senior nurse showed me what to do. The only difference, John, is that then we used to sew the sheet to cover the face. I have always been a rotten sewer so the senior nurse showed me how. Then - the relatives came to view the body and I had to unstitch the beautiful stitches - then stitch them up again when they left. To lift the mood - I can also remember that the windows were high and quite often a more senior nurse would request the window open to let the spirit free. Being young and junior it was often myself that had to position themselves and shove it open, no health and safety then. Hard days and long ones, but the patients were the easiest part of it all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I too have had the experience of older nurses opening the windows in order for the spirit to be released

      Delete
    2. This is strange John, in my early thirties I worked in a rest home on the weekends. One Sunday I went to work to be told that a favourite of mine had passed in the night. The sister asked if I would like to say goodbye, I said of course yes I would. Up to this point in my life I had never seen a deceased person, when we went in the room I was incredibly sad to see the closed eyes and notice the spark had gone but the overiding memory I have of this time was surprise that no one had opened the window to let the spirit go forth, so I leant over to open the window. The sister looked at me very strangely when I explained why! I thought it was just me... until now.

      Delete
    3. ...it's not you xx

      Delete
  2. How powerful John, thank you for sharing that story with us.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh the futility of life John. Why are we born to die? A very thoughtful post!

    ReplyDelete
  4. A poignant post, take care xx

    ReplyDelete
  5. My dad left when I was 4 but I found him again when I was 19. I didn't know that he was an alcoholic. When I was 21, a policeman came to my door to tell me that my dad had been found, and it looked like his flat had been ransacked, so they were treating his death as suspicious. He was only 47 years old. I travelled all day to go and identify his body as he had no one else. The flat was in a terrible state (he had turned the place upside down looking for a drink) and it turned out my dad had lain in the his filthy bedsit dead for a week, until the neighbours downstairs alerted the police that his front door had been ajar all week. The fact that he died alone and no one had noticed for a week was far more upsetting than his death itself. But I think he wanted to be alone in the end and drove people away. Three years later, I married and we lost my husband's father to cancer just after that. We sat round his hospital bed with him as he died, loved by his family.

    I'm sorry your bird didn't make it. I've never had any luck with injured or sick birds. Sorry for such a sad comment x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A difficult topic susan
      Brave of you to share the story
      Thank you

      Delete
    2. I don't know you at all Susan but I was very moved by this.x

      Delete
  6. Jessie CANNOT be 109; she barely looks 70!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am very glad to hear of that nurse's respectful attitude.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In my 32 years nursing, I have never witnessed any disrespectful behaviour with any oatient who has died
      Never

      Delete
  8. John you certainly must have a lot of bottle to do the job you do - most people myself included would buckle at the knees -and thankyou for helping the little egret - every life is of value

    ReplyDelete
  9. John love your stuff

    ReplyDelete
  10. Jessie just shines with beauty

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Doesn't she just
      She puts her longevity to porridge and no men

      Delete
    2. Oh, so that's the ticket. Thinking about it - she has that right!

      Delete
  11. You know John - that really was extremely touching. Just what i needed to read this morning. Puts things in perspective somehow.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I took my uncle to see my aunt's body at the funeral parlour - it was so obvious that something was gone and what was left was just the shell. You gave the egret a dignified place to die, which was all you could do, the badger can have it's shell.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A light extinguished?

      Delete
    2. Maybe the light has moved on and only the badger's dinner is left?

      Delete
  13. Every life is sacred.
    That little egret died but was taken care of in his latest moments and even a bit loved. Well done.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Replies
    1. In the nicest sense she looks like a Beatrix potter mouse

      Delete
  15. Thank you, one of the best

    ReplyDelete
  16. Yes.
    Beautifully done.

    ReplyDelete
  17. She was right; all human life is worthy of respect.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thank you for this John. I remember when I was a management trainee at a mental hospital in Norwich one of my tasks was dealing with the admin side of deaths on the ward. On my first day I had a death to deal with. The relatives came in later in the morning to pick up the death certificate and also the belongings of the deceased which had been placed in a black bag. There was hardly anything. I always hated it that we used black bin bags for this. The deceased in this case had been in the asylum since the early 1930s and it was then 1982. The family who came in talked non-stop about how there was "nothing else to do with her" "she had to be put away" and nobody looked me in the eye. I tried to be matter of fact as they went through all this neither agreeing nor disagreeing but inside I was hating hem. Her crime had been they described as "she kept lifting her dress up in front of people in the road". In hospital she was remembered as a quiet lady who had never been any trouble and never had visitors. During my 18 months in the job I saw this over and over again. It was one time in my life when I was always glad to be left alone and shut the door of my office when these meetings were over.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Many many women were incarcerated for similar reasons and the 1980s saw the demise of many of these women from their admissions in the 1920s and 1930s

      Delete
    2. When I was a student nurse in the early 80's, we went around a large Psychiatric hospital in our first few weeks to see what it was like. There was a sweet little old lady who looked neither mad, bad or dangerous to know. On asking the Charge Nurse, he told us she was "put there" in the 1920's for getting pregnant before she was married. It was too late to introduce her to the outside world. She just would simply not have coped. Some of us cried.

      Delete
    3. It was a common practice
      Moral defectives
      That's what they were called

      Delete
  19. Sorry the egret didn't make it John. Such a beautiful little piece of life.

    ReplyDelete
  20. A beautiful post John, you are a good man.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I read the big Sunday papers from the big city and read the obituaries . There will be a photo of the person say who is in their 90's and a much younger photo. You look at all these beautiful faces and read of their amazing lives and all they have done and all they have been. They really lived! Then there are the young ones...I have a lump in my throat reading these. I have lost two small grandsons, one 21 days old and one 3 years old who passed away. Never a chance at a full life but oh what a difference they made in ours!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Beautiful, John. Thank you for sharing your experiences so eloquently.

    ReplyDelete
  23. What a story, and a valuable lesson. I'm sorry the poor egret didn't make it.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Thank you for this post - very moving. And thank you for being the kind soul that you are. Such grace.
    Mary

    ReplyDelete
  25. So many people, so many experiences have gone into making you the fundamentally decent man you are; as is the case with all good people.

    I'm sorry the egret didn't make it, but sometimes the ability to help ease the way to the end of the story is the greatest gift that can be given.

    ReplyDelete
  26. My daughter is working at care in the community and had her first death last week and it made me think of the first time a laid someone out , this was on a long stay ward in a large psychiatric hospital . Always a time for reflection and the chance show respect , the very last gift that you can give .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Chris....funny those old asylums were always places of respect

      Delete
  27. Sorry John about the egret. That wee Jesse is adorable! How lucky you were to be trained by such an insightful nurse.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I'm glad you held the little egret before he slipped away. You are a fine nurse.

    ReplyDelete
  29. What a bitter sweet story. I think you have carried that lesson with you very well.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Sad but more or less inevitable for your little egret John.

    As to death - when I retired from teaching I worked as a volunteer on the Nursing Station in the Hospice in Wolverhampton for a few years. There was one particular sister who never let a death go without placing a flower on the box they took to the room to remove the body. She treated every death as special and with a gentleness O have never forgotten.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've seen this tradition too pat

      Delete
  31. That little egret was cared for in his last moments; he knew where to go for some comfort.

    To die with some dignity and be surrounded by love is something we all hope for.

    ReplyDelete
  32. The final and most important duty that a nurse can provide.
    We have had a terrible year but, I know that there is always someone worse off than me, coping with far worse and, I thank my lucky stars everyday. XXXX

    ReplyDelete
  33. Your care and compassion for all souls in need (be they human or animal) touches my heart. Thank you for watching over the egret and easing it's passing. How wonderful to be able to see beauty and value in things ordinary people never notice. You are a top notch human being, John Gray.

    ReplyDelete
  34. A very lovely, thoughtful and poignant post.

    ReplyDelete
  35. :-( for the poor little bird. In his short life I'm sure he must have made some people/creature a little but happier. I can't, or don't want to believe, that life can ever be entirely futile.

    Your talking of the respect given to the very recently deceased is very reassuring. In so many films or programmes we see hospital or mortuary orderlies taking the Michael out of the dead while they are present beside them. I've never wholly subscribed to the view that it's just releasing the tension or forcing a serious mood to lighten for sanity's sake, though there might be an element of that. I'd hate to think that anyone I loved, particularly a newly-lost relative, was joked about - even more so while their 'spirit' may still be hovering close by. I hope that there are lot more like you and that ciggie-addicted sister.in the execution of this grimmest of jobs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am a firm subscriber to the gallows humour brigade of nurses
      But there is a time and a place.
      I did , once have a fit of the giggles when one of my patients died and the nurse I was working with broke his bottle of whiskey all over the floor....
      The ward smelt like a brewery

      Delete
    2. Oh. Okay then. :-)

      Delete
  36. You gave that little bird a safe, quiet place to die....you are a very special man, John. I'll go dry my tears now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :-) thank you
      And chin up

      Delete
  37. that one got me like no other--respect for life--well told

    I usually leave my dead creatures out for others too--recycling the parts back into life--wouldn't mind so much an Indian burial with my carcass out for the vultures

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The ultimate recycling eh?

      Delete
    2. Kim - When I was in college, I spent several summers out in the field at an archeology field school. The head professor, an old archeologist, leading these digs always said that when he died he wanted his remains placed on a cargo net stretched between some trees. The net was to be elevated some height up into the tree tops and laid out for the birds & animals to disperse & the elements to wash & bleach his bones. I think it was the ancient Myan culture that used this method to dispose of one's remains To him it was the."ultimate recycling".

      Delete
  38. Despite your sometimes gruff exterior I can see that you John have a heart of gold!

    Thank you for this sad but beautiful post.
    Mary x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gruff exterior?
      That's a first
      Lol

      Delete
  39. I have been crying ever since I saw the photo.
    What a beautiful little bird and I am glad he felt safe and warm before he died.
    Soft post today.

    cheers, parsnip

    ReplyDelete
  40. What a difference a day makes. Good on you for doing what you could. That all of us may have a warm place and someone who gave us a kind thought at the end.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Made me cry. I hope when it's my turn (not for a long while yet) i get someone with as good a heart as you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope I get someone with a genuine laugh and a half bottle of Gordon's

      Delete
  42. I hope laying-out is still done as seriously and respectfully as it was when you first started out. Somehow, in today's frantically overstretched hospital wards, I doubt if it is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nick, strangely enough it is...well all the ones I have seen and/or been a part of....
      I have never seen a disrespectful situation in 32 years nursing

      Delete
  43. You are an angel in disguise John. x

    ReplyDelete
  44. Like I said yesterday - the egret knew where to go, John.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Every life and every death is significant. When some dies after an on the face of it empty life there is an extra poignancy. I remember when I worked in one of the old asylums in the early 1980s when an 86 year old lady died. She had been left as a foundling on the steps of the asylum when she was a new born baby, possibly because she had epilepsy. She was taken I and spent the whole of her life there with no record of her parentage or family. When she died she generated an immense amount of sadness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh that's so very sad!

      Jo in Auckland, NZ

      Delete
    2. Philip..what did you do in the hospital?

      Delete
  46. How bitter sweet. Well done you for giving the little egret and warm place to call it a day.

    We see them quite a bit round here but normally it doesn't get as cold as where you are. Lovely birds, they always make my heart lighter.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Bless that good hearted nurse. And bless you for carrying on her legacy.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Very moving recollection, John.

    I am sorry about the egret. At least he died in peace, safe from predators.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Beautiful, moving post. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Poor little egret, but his life ended in the right place, with someone who cares... thanks for caring John, I hope someone like you cares for me when it's my time.

    Jo in Auckland, NZ

    ReplyDelete
  51. Lovely post John and a beautiful lady
    Twiggy

    ReplyDelete
  52. It's times like these John when I truly understand the title of your blog. The little egret did go gently into the good night, and the badgers will ensure that nature is honoured also. As respectful and appropriate laying out as any in a hospital xo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes you do understand...GOING GENTLY is the title of a lovely novel......it's about an elderly woman dying in hospital....

      Delete
  53. She was a good woman and a good teacher. I am sure that you have passed that simple lesson in humanity on to younger nursing colleagues. It is too easy to get tied up in targets, professional development files and the like. What we ordinary folk and potential patients hope to find in healthcare workers is genuine kindness along with their clinical expertise.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you looked at her with today's eyes YP she would have been disciplined
      She was scruffy, a potty mouth and chain smoked ON THE WARD but she had a pure heart....

      Delete
  54. I've been a nurse for 35 years and have often opened windows to let the spirit out. I, like you, remember the first time I laid someone out and the wonderful staff nurse who taught me well that we need to remember that every life mattered and 35 years later I remember it so well thanks to your post. You did the best you could for the egret, and for that I respect you x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And in turn we have taught the next generation of nurses to pay their respects ....

      Delete
  55. Once again you have me in tears John. What a wonderful teacher you had.
    I guess at least the egret died in a warm place with a meal in it.

    Take care lovely man xx

    ReplyDelete
  56. I still like to open a window even now. If I am ever very ill, I hope I get someone like you looking after me.

    ReplyDelete
  57. KatieJane said it for me. Your post took me back nearly 40 years to the first time I laid out a patient, and the older staff nurse who showed me what to do. And yes, we opened the window. Good man, John. This is why we love you.

    ReplyDelete
  58. We need more like you, John. I hope when my time comes, I am attended by someone like you - someone who cares and is there to mark my passing. I recycle too when I come across a wilding that has died. Many struggle in winter.

    ReplyDelete
  59. Makes me think of the scene in the movie Steel Magnolias, when the Mother says that she was the only person who had the strength to be with her daughter when she died. Then she says "it was the most precious moment of my life" :(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I always say that to distressed relatives at the beside of their dying loved one
      " you are here...that's all that matters"

      Delete
  60. When my dear Mum was close to the end in hospital, in France, the junior doctor told me to bring in her best clothes. Poor lad, he spoke to me in French, but I thought I had got it wrong and in the end he had to blurt out in English 'because she is going to die soon'. Anyway, on the morning that she died, the nurses gently washed her and dressed her in the outfit I had chosen - including her shoes - and had wound her gold chain and crucifix round her clasped hands. And yes, they had opened the window too. They were all so gentle and kind, nothing was too much trouble, bless them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. there is a certain power in tradition isn't there

      Delete
  61. She was a saint: that nurse in 1983.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And she looked like a hooker!
      Let that be a lesson to all eh!

      Delete
  62. Damn it John, you moved me to tears again. But it's a good thing. It's a reminder how, as your wise nurse taught you, all life is important. A friend of ours saved a scared kitten from a busy highway, took it home to be safe, and sadly, it had already been hit and died a few hours later. But she said that kitten got the most love and caring she could give before it left this world. That's what you did, you made the little Egret have a gentle passing.

    You are a fine man Mr. Gray...thank you for everything you have done in both your career and at home with your furred and feathered family.

    Big hugs to you from Texas, USA

    ReplyDelete
  63. What a wonderfiul soul you are John. Last week I was with my younger brother as he passed away from cancer in hospital, the nursing staff were so wonderful to him.

    ReplyDelete
  64. What a blessing to have that kind of example set for you at only 21. You obviously learned well. I don't know how I could have handled that.

    ReplyDelete
  65. What a beautiful post.

    You gave the little Egret a safe place to close his eyes and die in peace in his own time, something we all hope to have.

    I lost a chicken yesterday and as I packed her cold lifeless body into an old feed sack ready to put on a bonfire at the weekend, I almost wished we have nearby badgers I could have left her for. But we don't and I really don't want to encourage foxes by leaving her body lying out 'just in case' so its a cremation on the hillside for her.

    Your experiences through life, the good things you have been taught and have done, have shaped the wonderfully sensitive and human man you are. You are a credit to the nursing profession, they and the Samaritans are so lucky to have a man of your calibre.

    No jokey remarks today, just credit where credit is due. xx

    ReplyDelete
  66. 'Every life is important no matter how it is lived'. That about sums up my philosphy of life; not only people though, every last creature which runs, crawls, flies, slithers, hops or oozes along is important. No matter whether they're biting you, sucking your blood, keeping you company or doing something earth-shattering.

    ReplyDelete

I love comments and will now try very hard to reply to all of them
Please dont be abusive x