She was a woman who made me wince, every time her name came up on my phone. It would always be a long, long moan. Round and round and round it would be go – and she would expect me to sort it all out, whatever “it” was. But not until I’d heard about all the other people who had failed to take her concerns seriously enough. We were trustees together of a housing charity and wouldn’t have met otherwise. “Don’t give her my phone number” said the other trustees. Yeah, thanks for that.
And now, she had cancer. Picked up late, the prospects weren’t good.
Of all the trustees, I was the one sent round with to deliver the bunch of flowers and the card. After all, Vicars are good at death and dying and stuff, aren’t they? And it let everyone else off the hook.
“She’s given up” said a mutual acquaintance. “She’s refusing treatment and just sat at home waiting to die. It’s such a shame. I always thought she was a fighter”
I was nervous, ringing the doorbell, I confess. I was tempted just to prop the flowers up outside the door, knock loudly, and run away. But it is true, Vicars tend to be good at death and dying – if only because we meet with these things so much more often than most people. We are more familiar with the territory than many, and not quite so awkward at talking about the tricky stuff. On the whole, we’ve got past that fear of saying “the wrong thing”, which paralyses so many, when meeting the dying or bereaved.
We had tea. She was washed out and very tired, but sort of cheery, so I rummaged in her kitchen and did the business with the kettle and the tea bags. She was indeed refusing treatment that might have extended her life. She’d had tried it, and it left her feeling too awful.
Did she seem defeated? Had she given up?
She knew she was going to die, and she was looking it right in the face. She was planning her funeral, so her son would have less to sort out. She was looking into her finances and the best way to pass on her property to family members. She was making good memories that would stay with her grandchildren long after she had gone. She was helping those closest to her be part of this final journey. It felt way more like courage, than giving up.
I’ve never admired her more.
***** This is a composite of several people and situations and conversations. I’m not horribly breaking confidences, I promise.