June 01, 2023

Breathless (CH 2)

👴 Relief swept over Saskia at seeing her mother walk towards her through the no thoroughfare corridor with a nurse. Staff had been filling her in on how her father was and it didn't fare well.  He'd had a heart attack: not strong enough to have killed him, though bad enough to have him drop to the floor. This would likely leave him vulnerable to future ones, as at home his angina attacks were becoming more frequent and intense. 
   Stopping in front of Saskia, the nurse left the women outside of Resus, where doctors were still tending to him. The second the nurse was out of earshot, Beverly turned angrily on her daughter.
   'Why in God's name weren't you home when you said you'd be, it was your weekend to get home early!'
   'I know, I'm sorry, the time just flew by and the second I realised how late it was I went to call him.'
   'And you let your phone die!' she added, making Saskia feel worse.
   'I used Amanda's and after three times of not getting an answer, I hurried home.'
   'And you didn't think to call me during all this?'
   'Look, I stupidly assumed he must be in bed - I didn't want to worry you, but I knew you usually give him a call as well - thought everything must be okay.'
   Beverly sighed and slumped heavily into the chair next to Saskia, her heavy-drop earrings swaying recklessly as her head bowed. She knew her father wasn't doing so well and despite both of them not really wanting to admit that he was incrementally changing, they didn't expect this. He was a master at hiding his ailments and his worries, and knew fine his health was put more on the line with any extra exertion. Every morning he joked that he had 'made it another day' in the mornings, and either or both would joke back that they'd have to shoot him to see him off. 
   They could hear the flurrying around from the room behind them and felt fear pump through their veins. Heaven knows what the outcome would be but they instinctively knew he wouldn't be coming home any time soon..
   'Listen, Saskia, I'm sorry for having a go,' Beverly quietly said - the seriousness of the situation seemed to both sober and soften her.  'I forgot to check on him myself, I know how fast a night out can go - and we damn well work pretty hard all week to earn it - but I've a feeling there'll be a lot of adapting to do.'
   'Grampa will pull through, though, Mum, won't he?' Saskia nervously asked, her face ashen, eyes full of concern.
   'Course he will.' Beverly smiled and drew her nervous little girl into a hold. 'He's a trooper, you know that!'  It was the biggest affirmation she felt she'd ever had to make. All she had to do now was  convince herself of it too.

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The women stared at the near-husk in the air bed, laying on its side, head sunk into super-soft pillows, with sunken eyes in its sockets, no more than a helpless soul. Pain was killing him, while painkillers were killing the precious time they had left. Three quarters of all the visiting hours they managed were spent with him asleep.
   Leonard didn't recover from his heart attack with any great promise, his existing health problems worsened instead. During his fall, he had broken his left ulna making matters worse, and from the hospital, he was prudently placed into a nursing home for a number of weeks - something his girls, as he fondly referred to them as, were vehemently against, willing even to take alternate days from work to have him home. But he was savvy enough to know their home wasn't suitable or could be adequately adapted to care for him. His pride wouldn't let them be burdened either. It was a shockingly quick decline, and he was taken back to hospital, especially now his oxygen saturation levels had dropped to critical numbers. 
   Beverly and Saskia felt helpless. A combination of emphysema, spinal stenosis and acute osteoarthritis was wearying-out his final days, ripping away his once active life in under a year.  
   Just as they had decided to leave, old Leonard stirred, initially confused at the opening of his eyes. Giving him a minute or two to habituate his surroundings, Beverly squatted beside him, sparing him the need to twist and chance rubbing his bedsores. She smiled at him, stroking the back of her fingers along his clammy brow.
   'Hi Dad, how are you feeling?'
   Leonard focused in on her and gave a crooked smile back, his words coming in between ragged breaths: 'Oh, you know ... much the same.'
   'Hi Grumps!' Saskia said to him, using the nickname she'd called him since a child, although when referring to him it was always Grampa - no N, no D. She crouched down, peering over her mother's shoulder, giving him a smile too. 
   'We were on our way out, visiting time's nearly up.' 
   'Huh,' he sighed, chagrined to know that. 'I've slept through again ... so sorry, love.'
   'Goodness, Dad, you need your sleep when it comes, don't worry about it...'
   This past week had seen a vast plummet in his overall condition. They both knew it, but had been too considerate of the other to broach the matter. Each new visit brought new fear; the dread of seeing an empty bed on arrival. 
   'Will we ring for a nurse to help prop you up?' Saskia asked, his sores far too open and raw for them to comfortably manage this simple task.
   'Oh, no, no, no. '
   'That's what they're there for Dad. You're really not bothering them, I keep telling you this.' Even in his sorry state he didn't want to feel burdensome. Without hesitation, she had two nurses by his side and painstakingly watched the torture on his face during the few seconds it took. He regained a forced smile and made an attempt at small talk for a few minutes, which did nothing but exhaust him.
   'Listen, Dad, we'll go now, it looks like you need a bit more rest.' 
   Beverly stood, and her father's bony hand flapped by his side, failing to grasp hold a hold onto her. Once he felt her hand grip his, he pulled with what fractional might he had towards her. 'I need to talk to you, Beverly, on your own ... Saskia, sweetheart,' he said meekly, 'can you give your mum and me a minute alone?'
   Concerned lines formed on his granddaughter's forehead. Usually he was pretty open and forthwith in his concerns. But as much as Saskia felt uneasy by it, she respected his wishes. Kissing him goodbye, she told her mum she'd wait at the end of the corridor for her. 
   While there, she was (as most visitors were) pivotally drawn to the strategically placed vending machine, feeling as if feeding it coins was mandatory with every 'wait' one endured. Choosing her overpriced fizz - the sound of the can landing with a thud accentuating in the quiet corridor - she sat with it and pondered over what needed to be said without her. Five minutes later, Beverly appeared.
   'Mum?' Saskia stood, concerned by her strained expression. 'What is it?'
   Beverly shook her head. 'I can't talk about it right now.' Whatever it was looked like it had crushed her, hit her for six.  
   'Is he okay?'
   'He's dying, Saskia, of course he's not okay.'
   'You know what I mean, Mum ... has he been told anything else we should know about?'
   'Then tell me what he said!'
   'Just leave it for now - please!' Her raised voice turned heads. 'I've a few calls to make in the morning, then I'll fill you in.'
   Saskia gave up. No point in forcing the matter any more, her mother could be a real headache - worst during stubbornness - when she wanted to. She let it drop and took her mother's stony silence all the way home, then to bed.

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The phone call to say his final hours were upon him arrived two nights later, the one Saskia and Beverly knew was looming closer.  Moved into a side room, those dreaded curtains had been swished fully around him, settling in farewell pleats. His breath had become short, inhales just a rasping struggle draining his life. They were met on arrival and through a blur of motion and colour, followed the nurse to the passing room. Saskia made a sudden halt outside the door.
   'I can't, Mum,' she gasped, bravery suddenly eluding her. The thought of witnessing her Grampa's final breath was unbearable, and her mother used no ascendancy to make her. She even told her to go home if that was what she wished, knowing he would have vouchsafed such a decision. Seeing him after death felt far less daunting, and felt she still needed to be there for her Mum. No matter how many hours may pass, she'd hang around in the late night cafe and her car. 
   Gingerly entering the room, all white and clinical with nothing on the walls but vital equipment, Beverly's heart sunk. Leonard always joked he wanted to die in a magnitude of roses, like the colourful ones in his beloved garden and taking a bunch with him through those pearly gates. Instead, he lay prostrate under the lure of death - old-ages' innermost nature - stripped of the scents and the vibrancy. 
   She sat slowly down on the chair waiting by him. He was propped up on a cloud of pillows, eyes closed and gently muttering indistinctly every now and then, Beverly grasped his macilent hand and his head turned momentarily towards her. 'Hey, Dad ... I'm here.' 
   Struggling to keep eyes open, Leonard managed to focus on his daughter who was doing an excellent job of keeping the tears at bay. 
   'Ah!' he smiled weakly, 'there's my girl ... I knew you'd ... make ... make it.' Leonard's words came out laboured and scratchy, the tone so low Beverly needed an extra keen ear to hear him.
   'Of course, I would. I'd do anything for my dear old Dad.'  
   'No Saskia?' he was just still able to take in his surroundings.
   'Trying to find a parking space, Dad...you know how busy it gets.' 
   'I know, I know.' he said in agreement, and she wasn't sure if he was able to cotton on to the cover up.
   Just then, his nurse laid a gentle hand on Beverly's shoulder, whispering that she would leave them alone for a short while, and Beverly knew that her exit meant that now was the time and chance for final exchanges, and where forgiveness, sorrow and secrets come out in unmeasured sincerity.
   'Make sure you girls both look ... after each other, you ... hear me now?'
   'We will, Dad.' It was torturous to hear him struggle out just a few words at a time.
   'Tell Saskia I ... I love her.' Now her tears spilled on hearing his own acceptance of his final hours, knowing that by morning he would be dead. 'I'm going to ... miss you, sweet ... heart.'  She grasped his hand tighter, and he shook it feebly.  'It's okay, love. I'll be with ... your mum. She'll be waiting ... wh, wh ... with a huge ... bu ... bunch of ... '  His words tailed off, too exhausted for any more.
   'Roses,' Beverly finished for him, and he smiled, grimaced, and let the pain in for it's final go. With a tear rolling down the side of his face, he turned away from his daughter.
   Nurse Lawson returned to the room and quietly informed Beverly that they would be upping his pain relief and would most likely be unable to respond any more. With a quiet nod, the nurse injected more morphine and gave the grieving daughter a sorrowful smile and went to fetch her some tea.

In just under an hour there had been no more movement from Leonard other than the rise and fall of his chest. Beverly simply sat staring at his face, knowing it was almost over.
   'Do you think he knows I'm still here?' Beverly asked as the nurse still hovered about behind her.  Even those unresponsive were said to be able to hear what was going on - often a conflicting medical opinion. The nurse, basing her answer on vast experience, told her she doubted it, but encouraged her to still talk to her father if she so wished. There was that tiny hope he might, and that was comforting enough.
   The second the doctor entered the room, she knew.
   'I'm so sorry, your father's gone.'
   An almighty wail released itself from Beverly as she leaned forward embracing herself.  No amount of preparation catered her for the actual event, and she wondered how she would ever evaluate the loss.
   'Come,' said nurse Irene, let's get you into a side room until we sort dad out. Would you like me to fetch your daughter for you?'
   'I'm ... not sure where she is,' she sniffed heavily, catching her breath.
   'She's at the end of the corridor. I'll bring her to you.'
   Saskia rushed into her mother's arms, hugging with all the strength she had left, cries of grief in unison.
   Once the nurse felt they had composed themselves a bit more, she felt them able enough to be left them on their own, telling them on her way out, 'Mr. Reymarr will have to be moved on soon, but he'll be in the same room for now.'
   Moved on, Beverly repeated in her head, knowing that meant to the morgue. She couldn't quite believe they were talking about her father.
   'I can still see him, though?' Saskia asked. 'You'll come too, Mum?'  
   Beverly gave a curt nod. 'As long as your sure.' Though it would be Saskia's first time seeing a dead body, she still felt afraid to be doing so, despite it being her loving old Grumps. 
   'Of course, just press the call button when you're ready.' And there she left them to gather some preparation breaths.
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Sleeping. It really did look like he was simply asleep - as goes the theory of mourners.  Saskia saw no greyness, just a lack of the usual pinkness of his garden cheeks. His hands had been clasped across his tummy and Saskia reached out her own hand to cover them, instantly recoiling it back as coldness shocked her. But she returned it slowly, rubbing a thumb quickly over the cool skin as if trying to return some warmth. 
   'Hey, Grumps,' she said softly, 'the house is gonna be a whole lot quieter without you.'  Beverly took a step back, giving Saskia the space for her goodbye's. 'I'm really going to miss your nagging and tutting, and I promise I'll try to at least keep the garden neat ... well, cut the grass from time to time, you know.'
Memory induced tears started to flow. No previous thought went into what this goodbye would contain, but she knew it would most likely be utter nonsense - always had been since she was a little girl. He had taken the time to listen to the childhood reasoning and ramblings that made him laugh, never once calling them silly or stupid. 
   Streaking her mascara more across her cheeks as she swiped away the wetness, she giggled softly.  
   'Just look at me Grumps ... you always told me off for crying, said tears were a waste of time, and here's me blubbing away in front of you!'
   Making extra sure her lips and nose were dry, she leaned down and kissed his cheek. Despite his many wrinkles, his skin felt as smooth as it did cold. Although her words were brief, they were enough. Between grandfather and granddaughter, there were no vital deathbed exchange of words, nothing to apologise for, or to reveal. 'Say hi to nana for me ... ' And with that she turned to leave. Being the driver she wanted to do her best to compose herself before the journey home. 'Get you back at the car, Mum.' She whispered on her way out.
   Now a sole daughter stood looking at the only man she'd ever truly and unconditionally loved. One who sacrificed and swallowed his own hurt in life to protect his family.  A man ascetic in life, and so doughty though fragile in death, that stubborn heart having lasted as long as it could for his girls. 
   A giggle from a nearby room roused her from her thoughts. A heart here breaking, and there was laughter. Sudden stark realism hit that to these people her plight to them was but another day's work. All they were most likely wanting to do was store her father in the morgue, get the deed over with so they could have yet another coffee break and hope no other oldie pegs it through the night.
   Letting out a deep breath, she turned sharply, hands stuffed in coat pockets and made her way out with no thanks or goodbye's to the hospital staff. The medical certificate could be collected at some other time, she needed to get out of here.

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The funeral passed in a haze of the usual sympathies and dismal smiles with follow-up promises that people rarely keep. It was simple and understated with a minimum of friends. With Leonard having been an only child himself, relatives were few and moving to the outskirts of London kept him long out of touch with bygone associates. Friends of Saskia's attended for moral support - some having not known Leonard at all - leaving neighbours and a few friends of Beverly's to make up the rest.
   While it is usually the case that younger people bounce back from grief quicker due to their network of friends and their quiddity, Saskia was coming to grips with her loss while Beverly wasn't quite getting there. She'd become sluggish and took to drinking alone at night. Despite repeated invites to do something other than working, Saskia struggled to get her mum involved with anything to help take the place of this inertia. Tears had dried up, even by the day of the funeral, and Saskia worried that a lack of releasing grief would hold her back from getting over death, but was refusing yet to talk about him much at any point so far.  Even when Saskia fondly quipped that part of her couldn't believe he won’t come bouncing around some corner, or laugh for falling for his elaborate joke, she was told to shut up and not be so stupid. She could accept that people could go cold inside, put up a barrier, even let empathy wither and die; feeling it better to be insentient than tackle the hurt underneath. But she was here for her mum, who seemed determined of going it alone. What Beverly didn't expect and couldn't handle was the feeling that her father had deserted her, leaving her to struggle.
   A turning point came after Beverly received a letter from the nursing home requesting her father's personal belongings be collected. Since Leonard's fee had always been paid in advance, legally his room and its contents could remain until such a monetary period was up - despite how needed the rooms were. Asking Saskia to help her in this daunting task was at least getting her out of the house.

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Stepping inside room 23 felt awful. A sweet or stale fragrance no longer swam in the air, just a cold occasional breeze from the open window. Staring at the empty chair felt strange, like he was about to return from the sitting room or library. His bed was draped with his clothes and two bags of toiletries sat on top of them. The walls were still adorned with pictures, and ornaments and plants yet stood on the sideboard and the windowsill.   
   'We have already sorted out a few things,' the accompanying nurse said, 'but we're not sure how much  you want to remove.' Beverly knew by saying how much you want to remove, really meant how much do you want us to keep - especially the television and music players.  The majority of deaths in the nursing home ended with relatives donating clothes and electrical appliances for less privileged patients - especially ones placed with funds from the council. The nurse hung about for a few moments with a 'well, what's it to be?' grin on her expecting-generosity face. Beverly deliberately held her silence a long awkward moment - just until the uncomfortableness kicked in a bit longer - before turning her back to the nurse. 'Yeah ... well, we'll let you know once we're done.' The nurse said nothing in reply and walked out the door.
   Beverly turned to find Saskia in a berating pose - all wide-eyed and purse-lipped. 'What!?' She raised her palms upwards, and let her mouth gape open before giving a puckish smile. 'Bloody vultures!' If nothing else, it was a relief to have her mum back, somewhat, to her old self again.
   'Okay .. where do we begin?'
   Beverly picked up a bag with the nursing home's logo on it, from the bed and threw the flimsy thing, catching in the air a second or two, towards her. 'You start with the sideboard drawers and I'll do the bedside cabinets.'
   Saskia helped herself during the clear out, by accepting the daft notion that old Grumps was in the room with them. A quiet hum strummed up from Beverly as mother and daughter went through a yes or no list of what goods and chattels should be up for donation.

   As Beverly sifted through the magazine rack, tossing old puzzle books, magazines and such like on to the chair behind her, the song she'd been lightly singing to herself, abruptly stopped. Lifting her head to see why, Saskia watched her staring at a page in a newspaper. A deep, pained frown formed on her head and she threw the paper fiercely on to the chair, dissipating the growing heap to the floor.
   'Mum, what is it ... what's wrong?'
   Beverly stood ignoring her. With closed eyes and hand over her mouth, she stood shaking her head gulping in air in mouthfuls.
   'Mum?' Saskia prompted again.
   'It ... it's nothing, baby,  just ... just these answers in a crossword your Grampa had been doing, they're all nonsense. Must have been the medication or something, eh? It just hurt a bit there, you know how good he was at them.' 
   'Yeah, and so determined! Aw, Mum,' Saskia went to her for a hug. 'Let me do this, eh?'
   'No, no, it's okay, really. There are some books and a couple of his gardening magazines I'd like to keep. You finish up in the drawers and I'll finish up here, there's not much to go.'
   In the end the women left with only a largish box and a two half filled flimsy bags worth of Leonard - the vultures getting the TV and CD system as desired.
  On the way out, Beverly went to the reception desk to finalise any bills and to sign for the more important personal documents and effects of her father's. Old Leonard. Over and out.
      Back at the car, Beverly suggested they head off for lunch somewhere, since they managed to sort out cover at work for the full day.  Despite how difficult the morning had been, Saskia regarded the suggestion a positive step. Upwards and onwards. But little did she know that there was more heartache and asperity ahead. In another turn of events, an additional struggle was about to enter their world, busting through the door without the decency of knocking first.     

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