Notes from a Death Bed

Monday 30th March 21.30

Dear Readers, I am writing this from my Dad’s room at the nursing home. He is asleep, breathing heavily but without obvious distress just a few feet away from me. To my delighted astonishment, the home is letting me stay for the duration, provided I stick to Dad’s room, or to the room that they’ve made up for me downstairs. For all my trepidation about persuading Mum and Dad to go into a nursing home, I think that it was one of the best decisions of my life.

When sitting beside someone who is dying, it’s important to abandon all illusions of control. No one can tell you when it’s going to happen, or how exactly it will be. For me, there are moments of absolute anguish, when I feel as if I’ve been poleaxed by grief. I remember how last time I was here, Dad spotted that the wine served at the ‘Spanish’ dinner was actually Italian, and how I would never have guessed that in a few weeks I’d be sitting at Dad’s deathbed. I remember the way that his face used to light up when I walked in, even though he didn’t really know who I was. I remember the time I walked into the home wearing a new dress.

‘Who’s that, Tom?’ asked one of the nurses.

‘I don’t know’, Dad said, ‘But she’s beautiful’.

I really, really don’t want him to go. But nothing I can do will make him stay.

Sometimes, I almost forget what I’m here for: I get engrossed in something on my phone, or I get chatting to one of the nurses, and it’s as if Dad’s imminent demise has slipped my mind. Maybe the brain can’t stand too much reality in one go. And then his breathing changes, and I’m instantly alert again.

Watching Dad at the moment, I can see what an effort breathing is – his whole stomach and diaphragm are working to pump oxygen. And then he breathes shallowly for a few breaths. He is rattling away, but I know that this doesn’t cause him any discomfort. Most of the time he is peaceful, but occasionally he becomes very agitated and upset. He can’t seem to bear any coverings over him, and sometimes I wonder if he’s living out something from a past life – he seems to be riding a bike, then he seems to be pouring something from one place to another. Sometimes he settles himself, and if I cuddle him and talk to him he sometimes calms. Other times he is inconsolable, and if it goes on for too long the nurse will give him an injection to sedate him, but only if all else fails.

He was very upset after the staff had been in to wash and change him, and I’m going to ask them to reduce that kind of contact to the absolute essentials going forward. I have no doubt that it was done kindly, and with the best of intentions, but Dad is dying, and if he is a bit grubby when he passes then he will be no less loved because of it.

Part of me is desperate for sleep, but I don’t want to leave him: I made him a promise that I would be with him, and I want to keep it. I might see if I can doze in the chair for a bit, and see what happens. I wasn’t expecting to stay, but the staff have brought me a fine selection of toiletries and a toothbrush so I won’t be too unhygienic. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

Tuesday 31st March 05.30

Well, it’s Tuesday morning and I managed a few hours sleep. One of the other residents stuck his head round the door a few times but backed out when he realised that it wasn’t his room.Dad was largely peaceful but became very agitated at daybreak – it’s probably time to increase his medication. I am struck by how different Dad’s passing is from Mum’s – Mum seemed to sink into dying as if it was a warm bath but Dad seems to view the approach of the Grim Reaper as an insult and I suspect he is going to fight it every inch of the way. I am reminded of the lines from Hal Summers’ poem, My Old Cat:

My old cat is dead,

Who would butt me with his head.

He had the sleekest fur.

He had the blackest purr.

Always gentle with us

Was this black puss,

But when I found him today

Stiff and cold where he lay

His look was like a lion’s,

Full of rage, defiance:

Oh, he would not pretend

That what came was a friend

But met it in pure hate.

Well died my old cat.

I suppose that our ends are reflections of who we are, and as Dad is defiant, stubborn and contrary, I should not be surprised if I’m still sitting here in a week, bleary-eyed and reduced to wearing Dad’s jogging pants because the one set of clothes that I was wearing has finally become too unsavoury to tolerate.

Let’s see. Birth and death both happen on their own terms, so i just need to settle in for the duration.

Tuesday 31st March 11.00

Dad has had all his sedatives and is still agitated. One of the carers suggests that I try giving him a head massage and so i do. Is that the tiniest whisper of a smile that I ser? He seems to calm down and falls asleep so I sit back and doze for no more than two minutes when i hear a gasp. I stand up, disbelieving. I check Dad’s pulse, listen to his heart, but all is silent. As light as a feather, he has gone. Maybe death had stopped trying to cajole Dad and had gone for seduction instead. Who can resist her, when she promises peace and the joyful faces of those who’ve gone before?

Oh Dad. Blessings on your big, big heart. Say hello to Mum for me.

50 thoughts on “Notes from a Death Bed

  1. Anne

    Rest in peace. I feel a wish to hug you and hold you tight for this reminds me so much of my own life. Now is the time to look after yourself, to nurture and to care for yourself. You are allowed to. Fond memories will crowd in later. Keep well.

  2. Pen Thompson CBE

    Warm commiserations and condolences . Well done for being the best daughter you could be for both your dear parents. Let’s give thanks to the care and nursing homes that provide such important and safe care to our elderly parents, no longer able to stay at home and independent. What a wonderful under-sung job they do. All the very best to you ; take good care of yourself.

  3. sllgatsby

    How wonderful that you could be there at the end for both of your parents. I am so sorry for your loss. We know it’s coming, but that doesn’t make it easier. Sending you condolences and wishes for rest and time to grieve.

  4. Leonie

    Awww bug woman
    It’s evening in nz just got your email
    I’m crying and so sad for your loss
    Your dad sounded a lovely man
    Glad you could be with him
    Much love

  5. Sally Fryer

    So sorry for your loss but so glad you could be with him to help ease his passing and send him on his way.
    Sending love and light ❤️❤️❤️🕊

  6. gertloveday

    How beautiful that your Dad slipped away just after you had given him a little massage. He must have felt so safe and loved. (And that must be the best care home ever A great choice on your part.)

    1. Bug Woman

      Thank you, Gert. When he passed away it was the most extraordinary moment of my life. I was genuinely awestruck. And yes, it’s a great care home, I am so pleased with them…

  7. Chistine Burns

    So glad to hear that you could be with your Dad. My thoughts are with you. Christine

  8. Gail

    I’m so sorry about your dad, but glad for you and him both that you were given the gift of being with him at his passing. Look after yourself, let your other loved ones and that big world out there take care of you too.

  9. Sara

    I am so sorry to read about your dad. He is at peace now and your memories of him will give you comfort and strength .

    1. Bug Woman

      Thank you Sara – I find that everything is reminding me of him at the moment. I’ve been planting seeds because that’s exactly what he would have done x

  10. Krishna Ramamurthy

    Thank you for sharing this. My condolences. I’m sorry that he has gone, but it is so good that you were able to be there. I’ll be holding you both in the light.

  11. ravenhare

    Dearest Viv, you’ve written so beautifully and tenderly about the most harrowing of times for you. I’m so sorry to read about your dad, and I hope you can find peace and rest in the knowledge that you were with your dad at the time he needed and wanted you there more than ever. You are an angel, Viv. RIP Tom. Sending love and hugs to you Viv, xx🤗

  12. Rosalind Atkins

    How wonderful that one of his last sensations will have been of you lovingly massaging his scalp! A very moving experience – Thankyou so much for having the courage and dignity to share it.

  13. Natasha

    Superb writing, your words seem infused with all that is most human and most humble in the intimacy of attending a deathbed. He was there and then he wasn’t – and yet he will always be with you. It was a privilege to read this, thank you.

  14. Toffeeapple

    Dear Vivienne, I am so sad for you. Your love of the natural world will be even more of a solace for you now. Please allow yourself to rest. xx

  15. Joanne Arden

    Tears in my eyes reading this. So glad you were there with him at the end – a great blessing in the midst of all the sadness. Much love to you. Take care of yourself and try to rest if you can. xx

  16. Jennifer Taylor

    Sending hugs. Bless you & him. I hope you can now find peace & calm. Please know that you did all you could. Thank you, as well, for your positive comments about the care your Dad received – so often all we hear is negativity in relation to residential care so it’s good that you could show the other side.xx

    1. Bug Woman

      Thank you Jennifer – I am sure that the vast majority of residential care staff are doing their very best under circumstances that are difficult at the best of times, but all we ever hear about are the bad apples. My experience at this care home has been good in every way xx

  17. Liz Norbury

    What a blessing for your dad, that you were able to be with him on his journey, just as you were there for your mum. When I read the Hal Summers poem, I remembered another poem about an elderly cat, by Gavin Ewart – “I want him to have another living summer …and happiness in a beelike swarm to settle on him” – and I thought of your words yesterday, about how you yearned to take your dad to the seaside just one more time. I’m so sorry it was not to be. Look after yourself now – I do hope you can get some rest and find some peace.

    1. Bug Woman

      Thank you Liz. On a beautiful sunny day like today it’s somehow worse that Dad isn’t here to share it, but no doubt it will get easier with time, as it did with Mum. xx

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  19. Alyson

    My condolences. We’ve been right there by your side so hope it’s been comforting for you to know how much your dad was admired – The stories have been wonderful. A life well-lived.

  20. Andrea Stephenson

    I’m so sorry for your loss Vivienne, it’s been a difficult few years for you but you’ve always described it so beautifully, finding the beauty and joy in the hardest times. I’m sitting here in tears for your loss, for remembering my losses and for the love that means we feel those losses.

      1. Andrea Stephenson

        We’re doing okay so far. Life isn’t so different apart from working at home. Most of the places I walk to are within easy reach so we still get out and about for our daily dose of nature.

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  22. thehospicegardener

    I’m so sorry for your loss, but I am so glad that you were able to be with him at the end. And thank you for sharing your experiences – they brought me to tears. I hope that you are managing to find some peace during these very difficult times. Much love X

    1. Bug Woman

      Thank you so much – I really enjoyed your post about what’s going on at the hospice as well. Gosh you have planted a lot of bulbs! I imagine the garden will look more and more magnificent as they spread…Love to you too x


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