Today was a gloomy, rainy day, the kind that TV directors traditionally use to show that everyone is unhappy and things are going badly. I went to the funeral of one of our residents, Minnie. She was 85 when she died, very suddenly, a couple of days after Christmas - it truly was what she wanted.
Minnie only came to us about August last year. At first she could stand up, with the help of two carers but within a very short time her legs couldn't hold her up any more and this, coupled with her fear of falling, resulted in her being confined to her chair. A widow with no children and precious few visitors, she was extremely private and I guess had been raised not to cause any trouble or fuss. This characteristic made her seem at times ungrateful, and she certainly was rather ungracious. On Christmas Day she turned down the lovely dinner and asked for sausages. One of my colleagues told me later that Minnie had told her that she 'wished we hadn't bothered getting her any Christmas presents', even though every resident got just a small gift, a gesture really, from the staff and management. I popped into her room every morning when I arrived at work to see how she was, and every few days she would ask me to do her nails for her - her way of asking for some company. I kept trying to get her to take part in activities that were going on but she refused point blank to come out of her room until one day a week before she died.
I kept saying to her that I was determined to get her into the lounge, even if only once in 2011 so she could watch some entertainment. She, in return, kept telling me that she wanted to die and that she hated being stuck in her room, unable to do anything. In exasperation I said 'don't tell me any more that you wish you could do something, Min! Everything I suggest to you gets turned down, so don't tell me any more' and flounced off. And yes, I do feel bad, FYI. Ten minutes later a colleague came to say that Minnie wanted me - she'd decided to come out and watch a school choir that were singing carols to the residents that morning. She didn't speak to any of the others there; got herself put sitting right beside the door (in case anybody tried to speak to her); and insisted on returning to her room almost before the last note had been warbled. And that was the only time Minnie left her room.
We were all surprised when Minnie died. She'd felt a bit ill on the Monday and seemed to be leaning to one side in her chair, but was still with it - still talking in her normal querulous fashion. Then by 5.30 the next morning she was gone.
Ten days ago I went into her room to ask her family - a not-very-close female relative who I had seen visiting only once before, with her husband - if everything was okay. They had cases with them and were going through the room like a pair of locusts. They had taken down a silly little ornament I'd bought her - for something to say I said 'I bought that for her, for a bit of fun'. Well, they took that; all her old lady clothes that I would say were worthless; even half-eaten boxes of chocs. But afterwards, when they'd gone, I discovered they hadn't bothered to take two items that Minnie had taken the time to bring from home, just knick-knacks; and they had left behind photos of her as a young woman and with her husband. Is it just me or does anyone else see something wrong in that? I know that Minnie had a house that'll need to be sold and I'm trying not to be judgmental, but... Heck, who am I trying to kid, I'm the most judgmental person I know. I think they're stinkers.
The funeral was as grim as I expected. About 20 people turned up, including me and Minnie's social worker. There was no priest in attendance; rather a smarmy-looking man who clearly had never met Minnie, in fact he said that he had been told about her by her family - I knew more about her just from filing her nails every week! Most of the time he was talking in general terms about death, and he read two poems about death. The hymns were piped over the tannoy and were the most innocuous you could imagine (and my three most hated hymns, unfortunately). There was nothing of the real person in the funeral and that made me upset.
Can there be anything sadder than a funeral that lasts 25 minutes, led by a stranger whose lines have been fed to him, attended by just a handful of people? It's almost as if Minnie came and went, and left no mark on the world at all.....