Hub and I went to visit another old acquaintance today. We had only known her for 4 years, 20 years ago when Hub was curate in her parish and I was doing my training.
Elsie has always suffered ill health: TB when she was young meant that she lost all of one lung and most of another, so she was limited in what she could do even then. She had a lovely husband, but as is so often in these cases, he died before she did.
She is now in a nursing home and permanently on oxygen. She isn’t happy at all, complaining about how impersonal the home was and how there weren’t enough staff and how she is getting worse all the time. She spoke rapidly but in a very low voice and we were both straining to hear, above the noise of the fan and the oxygen.
She confessed to us that this is the 5th nursing home she’s been in: we already knew that her longsuffering daughter had moved her from one to another, because none of them are good enough. Elsie was very negative – indeed, that’s how I remember her – but she does know it.
I think it’s what keeps her going, frankly. She said she just wanted to die, and really hadn’t wanted to live this long. She can’t go anywhere or do anything much. She is a woman of faith and hangs on to God, but doesn’t feel able to pray much because she always feels worn out.
We prayed with her before we left, but I felt so sad for her. How awful to finish up in a sort of expensive cage, where you’re fed and watered and medicated and looked after but where you have so little control over your life. 50 years ago nobody would have survived with her major health problems: sometimes I think that the huge advances we are making in medicine can be a mixed blessing.
I told her one of my favourite stories, of the woman who was incredibly busy with small children and lots going on. One day she went home, flung herself into a chair and said ‘Look at me, Lord! I AM a prayer!’