This week I visited K in hospice. It’s the first time I’ve ever been to a hospice, although at my age (late 40’s) I have visited dying people at home. I’ve known K (a Scots British Army veteran) since 2001, when he was a case worker for an armed forces charity, when my dad was being a “problem child.” K was a godsend to me, as he listened to me rant and rave about chaos that my Dad had been creating for me. Now it was my turn to return the kindness to him.
A, a mutual friend, had briefed me last week that K was due to move from palliative care into hospice this week. K knew what this meant. He was moving into the departures lounge. He’d been through check-in, security, and now it was time to sit in the departures lounge and just wait for the final call. A had briefed me that K had 2 to 6 weeks left.
The night before I had Kopfkino playing non-stop. Would K want to talk about death and dying? Would he use euphemisms, or would he actually use the word, “death”? Would he prefer to talk about anything but death? (Was he Celtic or Rangers?)
I turned up on a beautiful sunny day, too nice, frankly for a hospice visit. I didn’t ask him, “How are you?” That would be crass. He’s dying of cancer!
K, great to see you.
Ginge in Germany, you too!
A firm handshake from K. Bated breath. Will he cry? No. Almost, though.
A sigh from K, sitting in his wheelchair.
I arrived here yesterday from palliative care. I know what it means. I really have not got much time left here. Oh aye! I got a letter last week demanding €14000 compensation off me for a car crash I caused five years ago. I had great pleasure in replying that I’m going to die in a few weeks, and they won’t be able to get a single cent out of me, ha ha ha.
Then silence. K starts to blink, swallows hard, and squeezes his wife’s hand. Five seconds later the dark British squaddie humour returns.
And the amount of money the undertakers charge for a f***ing funeral! At my mother’s cremation, just before they slid my mother’s box into the oven, the cheeky bastard undertaker asked if anyone had a match!
Right, he’s back “in the zone.” If a soldier is not complaining or cracking bad-taste jokes, then there is something to worry about.
The rest of the ‘guests’ here are terrible. I joined them for dinner yesterday evening, and all they did was rattle on about their illness, asking me, “What are you dying from? How many weeks have you got left? I’ve got…” It’s so f***ing depressing, the morbid buggers!
K offers me a beer. I decline. I drink mineral water instead. Beer at 11am would make me too drowsy. K tells me his son is about to turn up tomorrow with G, his latest grand-daughter, only two days old. He’s looking forward to that, he says with fatherly and grandfatherly pride, a smile showing under his grey moustache. (When I first knew K, his hair was black as Whitby jet. What a difference 17 years (and metastasised prostate cancer) make.
K and I spend the rest of the visit, another hour, swapping stories and cracking jokes about death and funeral, standard ex-HM Forces chat, really. He tells me his bagpipes are arriving this afternoon. He tells me he intends to play the bagpipes tonight to the fellow guests – “to drown out all their f***ing incessant talk about death and coffins.”
Yes, the body may be going downhill rapidly. But the soldier with his effing and blinding, and his macabre sense of humour is still alive and kicking.
I conclude my 90 minutes visit with thanks and a firm handshake. No hug. We’re both British. We don’t do huggy-huggy, kissy-kissy. K sees me off with the following words:
“Lunch today looks good. Fresh strawberries, too. The condemned man ate a hearty meal, eh!”
I actually leave the hospice with a spring in my step. Iron sharpens iron.
Have a sharpened day, won’t you!