A Spooky Story about Death

January 2014

I was around at a friend's house, sitting in the kitchen with a cup of tea, chatting, as you do, when a line of teenage lads suddenly walked past and headed up the stairs, as they do. The last one was wearing a rucksack and as he ascended he knocked a picture off the wall; it fell down the stairs. He was noticeably embarrassed, as they are, and immediately offered to pay for the damage. A dustpan and brush was produced to sweep up the broken glass and as the picture was placed on the table I joked with my friend's partner, Penny, enquiring if this was the valuable one worth £2,000. "Yes", she quipped back, "but don't worry, son, we can arrange a payment plan.". Excellent banter.

"So", I said after he finally had managed to get up the stairs, "who is this a picture of?" I was looking at a black and white photo of a woman in her early twenties.

"My mum."

"Oh yeah, I can see the family resemble. Spooky though ", I continued to joke, "perhaps he didn't knock it off, maybe she did,. Perhaps this is a omen, perhaps she has something to tell you. Is she still alive?"

"No she died 3 days ago."

It was a wonderful moment akin to doing the splits on ice. First I was shocked by her reply, then realised it was just another joke and I had stupidly fallen for it, then re-realised she wasn't joking and the funeral was in a couple of days.

At that moment the cat jumped on the table and made a beeline for sitting on the picture. Penny shooed it off the unglazed photo adding, "Mum didn't even like cats."

So the topic of conversation, needless to say, turned to Penny's recent experiences with her mum's last illness and death. As she spoke the hairs on the back of my neck rose because what she had been through was exactly what Heidi and I are going through. Without Heidi's intervention her mother would have died in hospital just before Christmas.   She is now staying with us, dosing down on our settee while she has a new staircase and stair lift installed. Like Penny's mum, Heidi's mum has what used to be called emphysema and is drawing close to her passing over.

Amongst all that Penny spoke of, the difficulties of dealing with an old infirm and terminally ill person you love and the emergence of all the childhood relationships dynamics as if they had never ceased, the bits that seemed so important to me were the periods of calmness when her mother felt at ease, smiled, reminisced and was able to enjoy and appreciate her last days on Earth. In the last couple of weeks of her life, Penny told me, her mother let go of all her anxieties and need to control everyone around her and spoke words of kindness rather than hate. She died at home with her family by her side and Penny, like her sisters, felt she had a good death.

Heidi's mum is perhaps one lap behind Penny's mum and although she drives all the family completely up the wall with that crazy behaviour only old folk can get away with, I enjoy those periods when she is at peace in herself and able to smile and show kindness and affection. It is on these special occasions that Heidi's life saving intervention seems worthwhile - to give her mum the opportunity to have a last look at the world, her family, in that beautiful golden hue of the setting sun.

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