Love And Grief

My Uncle Sean is still with us. Only just, but he’s still here.

His blood sugars have stabilised. But his kidneys have failed him. He has a bowel infection and is going through terrible nicotine withdrawal (3 packs a day.)

The nurses won’t let him smoke. He wants to smoke.

My aunts won’t let him smoke.

He begs them to let him smoke saying it is all he has left but he can’t get out of bed and nobody but nobody is going to hand him a cigarette.

My Aunt Jo is standing guard.

My Aunt Jo has a favourite historical figure. Attila the Hun. Some of us say when we think she is out of earshot that she admires Attila the Hun because she recognises some of his traits in herself. Let’s just say that the term : Taking no prisoners applies to both of them.

So anyone who wants to secretly slip a cigarette to Uncle Sean has to get through Aunt Jo first  and personally, I’d rather take on one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse armed only with a feather duster.

Cigarettes aside, a sad thing has happened regarding my Uncle Sean. His memory is badly affected and he has trouble remembering certain events and even what year it is.

The doctors think it is because he was unconscious for a long time before he got medical assistance. They think he collapsed around one in the morning and it was almost 8 hours before someone found him.

The saddest thing is that my Uncle Sean thinks my grandmother is still alive. He is her youngest child, her baby. He keeps asking where she is and why she hasn’t come to see him in hospital.

My grandmother has been dead for ten years.

Yesterday my Uncle became really upset and demanded my grandmother be brought to the hospital. He grew so distraught that he had to be sedated.

Aunt Jo wants to tell him she is dead but the rest of the family disagree. They are worried that hearing of her death will push him over the edge.

When the mind begins to fragment it is very hard to watch.

Several years ago I lost my friend Andie to breast cancer. Towards the end she lost all sense of where she was and even who she was. She spoke constantly of her sister, her twin Erin, who had died when she was a week old, wondering where she was. A person she had never known but whom she had held in her heart and mind for over 40 years.

It was very distressing to hear her talk about her twin sister. I knew she’d had a twin who’d died shortly after she was born but she rarely spoke of her and I assumed she had come to terms with losing her.

Afterwards, Andie’s husband and I found a series of journals written to Erin that covered most of Andie’s life. She talked about everything people talk about in journals. Some of the content was funny, some was sad, some was eerie. The over-riding impression I got, though, was how much Andie loved Erin. How much she missed her. It makes me cry even now to think about it. She never said a word.

Oh, what love and grief can do.

So we sit and wait. And hope Uncle Sean’s memory restores itself.

My Aunt Jo has seen a glimmer of improvement in her brother. She won’t let that glimmer disappear. I know her. She is not prone to flights of fancy and if she has seen a glimmer I am going to hold on to it too.

Because glimmers can turn into full blown rays of light.

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22 thoughts on “Love And Grief

  1. I noted your tag: cruelty of illness. It is indeed. I know how hard this is for you. I have been where you are at, on the sidelines, in pain, feeling helpless so many times too.I am so sorry for the sadness. It’s also so sad to think of someone so addicted to cigarettes. I’ve known people who were like that too, it truly must be the addiction to end all addictions. I hope your uncle finds peace and comfort. Time moves on and time does in so many ways, heal.

    Take care Sel. I like what you said about an angel. Thank you. Many many hugs, G

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  2. I think these stories go to prove how strong the bonds of love and relationship are, the veil of death does not end them. I wish someone would kidnap Aunt Jo long enough for your uncle to enjoy a cigarette or two. I mean really, what is the point of forbidding him this little pleasure now? In my fantasy world, death would be something as simple and orderly as birth.. perhaps a ticket for the train, with relatives coming to see us off at our appointed hour. It is indeed sad that death and the stages leading up to it are often so difficult for all to bear.

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  3. I’m reminded slightly of the guy in front of the firing squad offered a last cigarette. ‘No, thanks!’ he said ‘I’m trying to give them up!’

    I really don’t see any harm in allowing your uncle an occasional gasper at this stage, providing he’s supervised, doesn’t annoy anyone else, and doesn’t set himself alight.

    My mother suffered from Altzheimers towards the end … she kept calling me Jack. I told my Dad (his name is John, but is very rarely called Jack) and wondered if he was getting us mixed up.

    No, he said … Jack was her twin brother, killed at Dunkirk. Thing is, she never spoke of him, and this was the first I knew she’d had a twin brother!

    (Also brought back the time my cousin was very ill in hospital; my brother and I smuggled his dog in to see him. The ward Sister was an old school friend; I think she knew, and turned a blind eye)

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  4. Hi GERALDINE:
    I know you understand. Cigarettes are hard to give up. I think during times of stress like a serious illness they do offer a bit of comfort. I’ve never smoked but I know a lot of people who have and they have all told me how hard it is to give up. I feel for Uncle Sean right now because there is no way Jo will let him smoke. I think she should give in but she won’t. 😕

    Hi JOSIE:
    Oh absolutely. The bonds of love are amazingly strong. I am hoping one of my cousins gets rid of Jo long enough for Sean to have a cigarette. I mean, what’s the point of denying him now? You are right – things like this are very hard to bear.

    Hi TRAVELRAT:
    WOW. Another twin story. That is amazing.

    I love the story of you smuggling in the dog. That is so kind. I bet it did your cousin the world of good.

    And the firing squad joke is a good one. Hahaha.

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  5. This brings back memories of when my dad passed away and kept calling me Marg, he thought I was my mom and his longing for alcohol. Much like your uncle he said it was the only thing he had left. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t have a drink or why we wouldn’t bring it into the hospital. Up til the moment he died, he wouldn’t belive that he couldn’t have it if he wanted it.

    It’s hard to stand there and deny them but we, as I’m sure your aunt does, wanted him to live., and we knew if we gave in it would kill him that much faster.

    My prayers are with you Selma
    Hugs xo

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  6. Oh, sweet. I’m so sorry about your uncle. I say good for your auntie to cling to that glimmer.

    Your words about Andie and Erin just WRENCHED my heart. How beautiful and sad.

    I’m thinking about you today, my friend, and sending love to you.

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  7. Oh, no. Im so sorry to hear about Uncle Sean’s failing health. It is VERY sad to watch someone suffering like that. And, I can only imagine how difficult it must be for him NOT to smoke.

    My grandmother Manga died from alzheimer’s and I will never forget how upsetting it was when she didn’t know who we were anymore.

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  8. HI CATHY:
    I’m sorry to hear about your Dad. It is very hard, isn’t it? I think my Aunt Jo sees a small chance of recovery and believes cigarettes will take that chance away. It is just so tough to know what to do. Thank you for your prayers.

    Hi HEATHER:
    When I read Andie’s journals I was completely floored. I had no idea they even existed. It just goes to show the strength of the bond between twins. Thank you for your kind thoughts.

    Hi MELEAH:
    I am so sad to hear Manga didn’t know who you were anymore. That must have been difficult to deal with. I know how much you loved her. It is sad to watch the ones we love suffer.

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  9. Yes, there is always a glimmer a hope. What an amazing story about the twins. I hope those mean nurses are giving your Uncle Sean nicotine patches, since they won’t let him smoke 😉 . My uncle Bill died after Christmas this year – he was my Mum’s younger brother and died of bowel cancer, the same as her – but in a way Mum had better quality of life because she said no to surgery (it only gave him a few more months anyway). It’s not much fun near the end with so many diseases. Thinking of you Selma.

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  10. Selma, I’m starting a new Memories on Mondays meme on my blog. Add a link there to any of the cool things you’ve written, or write a new one to share with us!

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  11. That glimmer – that ray of light. It’s what binds us. Truly amazing Andie was remembering Erin, and had her in her heart still. Yes, it’s sad, but more so – it’s beautiful.

    Praying Uncle Sean’s glimmer continues to brighten.

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  12. Hi Selma, I’m sorry to hear about your Uncle. You, your Aunt, and the rest have my prayers and sympathies. Your post is very well-written. It is a fine example of the adage “The more profound the topic, the less unadorned your prose should be”. And there are few topics more profound than” Love And Grief” . You wrote with honest sentiment,without crossing over into sentimentality, about a terrible time in your life and of the people you love,something not easily done. All the best to you and yours.

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  13. Its sad when they lose their memory. That happened to my dad’s mom (she didn’t recognize some of her family). My mom’s eldest aunt didn’t recognize her own kids and she kept calling for her sister, my grandma, who had died 2 years before.

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  14. Hi Selma,
    I’m really sorry to hear about your Uncle, it is always hard when we are about to lose a loved one, be it Family or Friend. But these people are never forgotten when they die, as they are always with us in our Memories.

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  15. Hi Selma!
    It is amazing how deep a twin’s bond can go. Just by your friend’s story at how if I understood correctly only knew her twin for a week. Alzheimer can be very cruel – I remember a friend’s grandmother who had it. One summer I had stayed at the cottage with her and at night she would look out the window and tell me there were people coming to get her – but all I saw were trees. She was convinced there were people there. And from one moment to the next she would forget who I was and what I was doing there. It was so sad – she was like a grandma to me.
    My thoughts are with you and your uncle.

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  16. Hi GABRIELLE:
    The twins story has really touched me. I wouldn’t mind writing a book about it. It could be a really beautiful, ethereal almost supernatural tale. I’ve been thinking about it for ages.

    I know what you mean about the surgery. Sometimes it just increases the misery. It is so hard to know what to do in those situations. There really is no right or wrong answer. My Uncle does have the patches, but of course, says they aren’t helping. I’m surprised Aunt Jo has allowed even them 😮

    Hi JOSIE:
    That sounds really good. I’d love to join in. I’ll do something for next week. Thanks for thinking of me.

    Hi JENNIFER:
    It is a beautiful story. Sad too, but mostly beautiful. That glimmer – aaah, she keeps me going!

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  17. Hi DAVID:
    I really appreciate you saying that because of course, it is easy to lapse into sentimentality under such circumstances and love and grief should be unadorned as they are such big subjects. Thank you for pointing that out. It has made me feel good. Thanks for your kind wishes.

    Hi ROSHAN:
    I’m sorry to hear that. It is such a hard thing to watch. I’m sorry you went through that.

    Hi MAGS:
    We always hold them in our hearts and memories, don’t we? I have so many stories about Uncle Sean I don’t think I’ll ever forget him!

    Hi TBALL:
    Yeah, Andie only knew her twin for a week but the bond stayed with her all her life. Amazing.

    I’m sorry about your friend’s grandmother. Things like that are so distressing. It is very hard to deal with.

    Thanks for your kind thoughts!

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  18. I hope Sean gets that smoke, if it makes him happy.

    The first time I visited the nursing home I volunteer at, I toured the Alzheimer’s and dementia wing. There was a resident there who was beside himself. He thought one of the employees was his mother and kept apologizing to her. His distress broke my heart — there I was, crying in his room while the employee tried to soothe him. I decided then I couldn’t volunteer once a week in that wing because I was sure it would destroy me.

    I hope that the rest of Sean’s life is gentle and kind to him. Know that I’m thinking of you and your family (even scary Aunt Jo) and wishing the best for all of you.

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  19. Love you Sel. I’m picturing you armed with your feather duster, and I think you look rather dangerous.

    I was also going to ask about nicotine patches. I’m glad your uncle has something at least to take the edge off. I’m thinking of you and your family. I hope he pulls through and makes you all laugh once again.

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  20. Hi PUNATIK:
    You are an angel for checking in. Thank you ♥

    Hi GERALDINE:
    My Canadian guardian angel. You are awesome xxx

    Hi KATE:
    I think that too. I mean, is it really going to make any difference at this stage? Alzheimer’s is very hard to take. One of my great Aunts had it and couldn’t remember anything from her former life. She was Irish yet she thought she was a French restaurant owner and couldn’t understand why she wasn’t allowed to return to Paris. It sounds funny when you tell people about it but it was very dangerous as she used to try to get to the airport all the time and was sometimes gone for days. Very traumatic.

    Thank you for your kind words. They mean a lot 😀

    Hi DAOINE:
    Feather dusters these days mean business. Don’t ever underestimate someone holding one. Sounds like a Monty Python skit. Hahaha.

    Thank you for thinking of us. Love you too xxx

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