I as you may remember a couple of weeks ago in my blog It’s never too late to start, I was delighted to have a piece printed in Living Orkney magazine.
Many of my non Orkney friends were keen to read it as they can’t get hold of a copy. So here is my short piece about an elderly lady called Elise. It’s very different from my usual blog writing but I hope you find it touching.
There was a stillness like no other when Beth entered the room. An almost spiritual stillness that cannot be explained, only experienced. The fire crackled gently and Beth wondered how many times it had been lit over the many decades that Elise had lived in the cottage. How many times had she completed the daily routine of cleaning out the previous nights cold ashes, collected the coal, spent hours on her hands and knees blowing gently to make the spark become a flame only to see the smoke rise and the fire come to nothing ready for her to try again.
How many times had Elise dusted the old dressing table moving the hairbrush, lace cloth, cold cream, jewellery box etc only to replace it again exactly as it was, year after year? How many times had Elise closed the curtains at evening time, shutting out a wintery night, preparing for bed with the monotony of routine that was somehow comforting. Elise was from the beautiful era before technology forced its way in to every nook and cranny of human lives and it showed in this room. The box bed, the sparse furnishings and faded photos all showed a gentler, kinder era Beth thought. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sudden whir of a morphine pump. A piece of relatively modern technology amidst all the dated collections. It wasn’t too invasive, but its click and whir every few minutes served as a reminder that Elise was leaving them. The pump would soften the blow of her passage from this world to the next. Reducing the pain, offering comfort with the elixir that was going into her veins. The moment was somehow beautiful. As much as Beth didn’t want Elise to go, she knew it was her time. She knew Elise had served her years faithfully in this world and was ready to go to the next. Beth was somehow envious that Elise was already unravelling the mysteries of what happened when a person was dying but could never report back. She could only continue on her journey which is only ever travelled alone; a journey which sometimes takes minutes and other times days and weeks. It was impossible to predict when each person’s journey would finish. Some reached the destination sooner than anticipated whilst others seemed to stop and smell the flowers one last time.
Beth smiled to herself and turned her attentions to the job of smoothing out the bed sheets, putting on a little hand cream, moistening the lips of Elise as her mouth took, deep final breaths. She spoke gently to her. Telling her a little of the day, the weather the news….
It was harvest time again and Beth knew Elise was holding on until all was safely gathered in, knowing the work involved for so many. Elise would know the inconvenience a dying woman would bring to an already over stretched farm right in the middle of harvest. Things would have to stop, preparations would need to be made, cups of tea to be served sandwich’s to be filled in time for the wake, all at a time when life was at its most busy. Elise would know this, and Elise would hold on, not wanting to be an inconvenience. But it was all done. Harvest was over and Beth told the elderly, frail woman this news. She didn’t speak too much, she didn’t want to shatter the moment by prattling on. ‘Harvest went smoothly Elise and we’re glad it’s by with.’ The silence was broken by the shrill ring of the phone which seemed a constant interruption at the moment with concerned relatives and friends all wanting an update. Beth stood up to answer it; she left the room closing the door softly behind her; and Elise, quietly left.