l a s t j o u r n e y

[ 17:33 monday 5 may – ludlow railway station, ludlow, shropshire ]

it never occurred to me that ludlow’s three taxi firms would close down for today’s bank holiday. my nomadic habits pay off at times like this. i’ve got got hiking boots and i’m carrying all my stuff in two rucksacks so it was no sweat to walk the mile and a half from bear and david’s house in steventon to the station. it would have been a different story if i’d been traveling with a wheely case and brogues.

the last four days with granny have been incredibly intense. that was no great surprise. what i didn’t expect was how beautiful the experience would be. it’s as though we’re traveling a supremely difficult journey together, taking us to places neither of us has ever been before. her impending death has created a situation where we interact in ways that would be impossible under other circumstances.

granny celebrated her ninety-second birthday a little over two weeks ago. since i was in san francisco and unable to be there i sent a cd to my parents on which i played six of bach’s goldberg variations and recorded a happy birthday message. granny had a happy day and was delighted with my disembodied offering. then the next day she got a blood clot in her right leg that stopped the blood from reaching her foot. she was rushed to shrewsbury hospital where they operated to try and remove the clot but the operation failed. at that point there were three options: arterial rerouting, amputation of the leg or allowing her to die from gangrene. the first and second options were judged impossible. granny was moved to a private room in ludlow’s small hospital and the family started preparing its goodbyes.

on friday evening i sat by her bed watching her face in the golden light of the setting sun. she was terribly emaciated, her skin translucent and crumpled like parchment wrapped loosely around her bones. i clasped her hand and stroked her hair while we talked. there were tears running down my face the whole time i was there. occasionally my voice faltered. neither of us made comment of this. the tears carried on when i cycled back to bear and david’s and for a good while after i arrived there.

since then i’ve cried very little. each day i sit at granny’s side talking with her, helping her when she wants a drink, holding her hand and watching quietly when she sleeps. the peak of the experience came yesterday evening. granny was extremely lucid. i said “each of us has a time to die. i’m going to be very honest. i think this is your time. you need to start preparing yourself”. she said “what do i have to do i prepare?”. i said “i don’t know. only you can find the answer inside yourself”. i asked if she would prefer to be at home to die and she replied “of course i would!”. i explained it wouldn’t be the same as when she was at home before; she’d still be stuck in a bed and needing a lot of medical attention, plus the move itself might be very painful, but she was determined she wanted to go home. i said i thought each of us had guardian angels looking over us and she said she believed that too. i asked her to be my guardian angel and help me achieve all the things i wanted to do with my life. she said she wished grandpa was still alive as there were still things she wanted to say to him. i told her if she said those things in her mind he would hear her. then she said “let’s not be gloomy!” and the conversation moved onto other things.

today she slept most of the time i was there, clutching my hand all the while. i asked if she remembered our conversation from yesterday and she said “some of it”. i didn’t press her. i travel back to london now feeling light-hearted and full of love for her. i will be back at her side next weekend but i may find her much changed. as the gangrene progresses the doses of morphine will be increased and gradually she will become less lucid. the point will come when she is longer there. sometime later her body will cease functioning. i will miss her dreadfully but we have shared something precious in these last flickering moments of her life.

: c :

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