My mum died in the early hours of this morning, peacefully in her sleep. Despite her dementia, she has remained physically strong and robust over the last four years. After each knock, scrape and illness, she has recovered completely, regaining her original strength. But not this time. Two falls and an infection less than a week ago led to her rapid and sudden decline. My sister and I have been keeping vigil since 23 December.
A life that touched many others
I have longed for the time when her distress would at last be over. Yet no doubt it won’t make her departure easier to bear. She was such a kind, caring and humble person. She will be dearly missed, not just by close family. I have recounted in another post how she had a profound effect on two women who became great friends following her unthinking acts of kindness. Even in the ward where she stayed for the last few weeks the staff found her engaging and charming. One nurse was shocked when she returned to work after a few days off to discover mum had become ill so suddenly. She welled up as she explained that she couldn’t believe it. Only last week, mum was talking Cantonese to a Chinese cleaner from Hong Kong, where both women lived for many years. The cleaner explained her shock and sadness at mum’s deterioration. Yesterday, a carer was in tears as she said her last goodbyes.
Great care in final weeks
It’s ironic, but at the end of her life mum finally got the really good care she needed. She had recently been moved to a dementia specialist ward in a community hospital very near the village where she grew up. The ward, which has 12 en suite bedrooms is more like a care home than a hospital. It has a communal lounge for all the residents, cosy smaller lounges for when residents want some peace or to meet their visitors, free access to a secure outside area, and a noticeboard full of regular activities which include trips out and visiting choirs.
Of course, most of this is standard in care homes. What makes this place different is that the staff are clearly well trained, and there are enough of them to meet the complex personal, social and mental health needs of their residents. Watching the staff interact with residents is delightful. There’s no sense of staff needing to get on and residents being in the way. Instead residents are asked to help out. You sometimes see residents sitting in the office area with the nurses. Gentle banter keeps the mood light when its necessary to divert or distract. On an early visit, I was surprised and delighted to discover that mum was out at the nearby church. The staff had understood from her notes she was a committed Christian and organised for her to attend the weekly church service. For once, the claim that a place is ‘dementia speciliast’ means something.
As my mum hovered in the halfway house between life and death, the care staff did all they could to make her final days comfortable and pain free. They ensured her end of life wishes were met. They organised for a vicar to visit on Christmas day. Reverend Kofi had already been busy leading Christmas services in Cardiff. He was just about to to spend time with his family, but drove the 40 minutes to Penyfai to hold a short and touching service for our close family. Mum’s own vicar, Reverend Philip had been to visit mum the previous day.
While this is a difficult and sad time, I feel so grateful that mum was receiving the very best care in her final weeks, that her lifelong faith was honoured until the last, and that she is finally at peace.