I spent a night in a local hospital recently and was distracted by a wonderful, elderly lady who had the Doctors and the Nurses running around. It was an interesting experience and it made me write this….
Can you note the error I have made, on purpose?
Edith was always the adventurous child! Precocious in every way, she was the darling of the afternoon tea party, the belle of the ball; the pearl of great value for so many admiring young men, as well as a few older ones to boot. Whatever she turned her hand to, it became an instant success!
She was admired and revered by all who met her, most notably her family, apart, that is, from her father! He was the one exception to the rule, the one man in her life who she had not allowed to break her, no matter how hard he tried. The first time he had tried was when she was four! He believed in sparing the rod instead of spoiling the child, so the young Edith, with her firm grasp on the hierarchy of their family, knew to fight him at every turn.
There were times when he won, or more likely, she let him win and others, where she had been the victor and in her triumph, had let him know about it. He was never able to master her defiance and even after his passing, she had taken particular delight in organising the funeral.
When he died, she was in her forties and in her prime of life; vibrant, assured and determined to live a single life in a good manner that is best described as care free, but careful to help others where necessary but then came a day that would change her life forever, a day so momentous that from that moment on, life was bound to change and for the better, for up to that point she felt as if she was happy but from that day, she would find true joy. The day was her birthday, the 22nd of November and she was asked by a work colleague at the office where she worked, to go to the local football stadium to listen to an American evangelistic preacher, called Billy Graham.
She had gone out of pure intrigue. Her friend, Veronica, had asked her because she enjoyed going to church. Veronica was in her late forties herself, a similar age to Edith but there was a major difference between the two. Veronica was the one who exhibited all the joy in the office, even though she was on the bottom rung of the ladder when it came to being seen as important. Edith had asked herself on several occasions what it was that Veronica had in her life, which she did not have. What caused it? What was the reason, her raison d’etre? There had to be an answer! Veronica had hinted that at this event, she would most likely find out.
As soon as that tall American man had called people forward, she felt her legs moving without being told to. It was as if they gained a life of their own, as if something was drawing her forward onto that pitch, a need to be there in the mix of change and decay, death and life! From that point on her life was different. It made a difference in the lives of others less fortunate than herself. She was the epitome of the middle class, middle aged woman of God who grew in faith and whose works were seen as commonplace and effective.
She had been working in the office for some time when she met Charles. He was in another team and occasionally placed his head around the corner of her section of the office when the need arose. His was always a welcome visit, for it took her from the mundane of her work and gave her something different to do, a problem to solve. She took to these challenges with gusto and revelled in them, in the chance to make a difference once more. This, for her, was an extension of her home life, where she had lived in her two bedroomed flat until Charles had proposed and then lived with him, married in a blissful relationship with him.
They lived happily until his death at the age of eighty four. She was two years behind him in age so the loss and the grief was too much for her and her mental capacity began to suffer. That is when the Doctors saw her in her confused state and decided to give her more care in her house, the home she had made for herself and her family; two sons and one daughter. The level of care grew until she was at the point where they were thinking of placing her into a care home near to where she lived. Her little family had grown up, married, each with children and had left the area, each living a distance away from her in her old age. It was something that ate at her brain, something that made her feel lonely and something that in the end, turned her once functioning mind into a mire of thoughts and emotions. One minute she could be fully lucid and working the crossword. At other times, she was confused and would most likely be seen doing the gardening in her night dress at three in the afternoon.
The last straw for the social workers and her family was her walk to her daughter’s house! This happened just before Christmas 2015 and was to be the means to the end in choosing her final residential setting, for she set off at 3am in the morning, dressed only in her slippers, a night gown and a dressing gown. The walk was five miles in total to someone who knew where she was going, but her daughter, Kathryn, had moved house some time before this, leaving Edith confused and alone. This night, she was all alone, back lit by the moon and the stars around her and obliviously happy, until the rain came. She walked for about two miles and was well on her way to her daughter’s house when her good Samaritan stepped in to assist.
As she got to the end of a street that intersected with another, a driver in a car saw her, pulled over and asked her where she was going. She was only able to say that she was going to see Kathryn, so the driver said he would take her there and as soon as she was safely in his car, the young man phoned for the Police, who rushed to meet him before driving her to the nearest hospital, where the Accident and Emergency teams were able to treat her now severely problematic needs. She was hypothermic, shivering, filthy and wet through as she entered the hospital.
Safely ensconced in her hospital bed, she warmed up and became more lucid but at this point, the only person who knew who she was was Edith herself. This was to be the first problem that the Doctors and Nurses had to overcome. The other five members of the ward that she was on were treated to a series of hilarious encounters between Edith and the nursing team. She was able to give them her name and the fact she lived in a nearby town, but for four hours, there was a search on to find out who she was and only in the early hours of the morning did they finally locate where on earth Edith had come from.
A neighbour had seen her leave her home, wondered just what on earth was happening and decided to investigate. When she realised that Edith had given her the slip, she returned home and rang the local Police. They in turn, sent out officers to search and eventually the right kind of connections were made and Edith’s family were contacted.
Seeing them arrive one by one into the ward made me chuckle. It made a night when I had a suspected heart attack a night to remember but not for the reasons one would normally assume when it comes to heart failure. Each time someone came to her bed, Edith would answer them with a comment and a chuckle, trying to laugh it off. She was such a darling, a reassuring and comical distraction in a time when fear was foremost and thoughts of death made one think of all the bad things that can invade the mind. I can only describe her as the Grandma that I lost so long ago come back to life, or the memory aid in my life, sent to show me that there is more to life than I thought.
So, this story is written to secure Edith’s name and memory in the annals of time as she departs this mortal coil some day, for she showed in one unforgettable night this English teacher just how important life really is. I have changed her name for obvious reasons, but the memory of all those people around her bed, some whom were strangers and others not, who were looking after her, made me think. To me, they represented how we should always look out for each other. Then, when her family were found and they flew to her bedside, they showed me the importance of family and the love that exists in the world to make the world a better place.
And finally, there were five others in the story, who can never be forgotten, all listening from their beds, representing the people Edith may have never met and said hello to, but who take an interest in her situation that she is in. Perhaps as you read this story, you too may look out onto the streets of your life, considering those out there who are new to you, those out there who are family and then try and find a way of sharing that love. Only then will we make a better stab at making this world of ours a better place to live.