not dead yet

Gladys is sitting in her chair, one arm out so I can take her blood pressure. Her son Phil is on the sofa opposite, along with Derek, her next door neighbour. Phil’s wife Susan is clearing up in the kitchen. Every now and again she stands in the doorway and looks in.

‘So I’m not dead yet, then?’
‘No, Gladys. So far so good.’
‘Hear that, Phil? He said so far so good!’
‘That’s a relief!’
‘You can say that again.’
She looks at me and smiles.
‘I’ve got a wonderful family. I don’t want to be a burden to no-one.’
‘You’re not a burden, Gladys.’
(Susan, folding a tea towel in the kitchen doorway). ‘We’d tell you if you were.’
‘I bet you would n’all.’
I unwrap the cuff.
‘That’s all fine, Gladys. Better than mine.’
Better than mine he says! I like that!’
She watches me wrap the cuff away, then looks across at Philip.
‘When’s Pete coming to see me, then?’
‘Pete’s dead, mum.’
‘Oh he never is! Oh don’t say that! When did he die?’
‘Seven years ago, mum. He died of cancer. You just keep forgetting.’
‘Oh don’t, Phil. Don’t say that! He never is dead!’
‘I’m afraid so, mum.’
Her face crumples up, and it looks as if she’s going to cry. But her attention’s caught by the TV guide precariously balanced on the arm of the chair. She carefully puts it on a side table, then looks around at everyone and folds her arms.
‘What’s all this about, then?’
‘The man’s come from the hospital, mum. He’s just giving you a bit of a check-up.’
‘A check-up?’
‘Yes. An MOT.’
‘Oh, right. An MOT. And have I passed?’
‘With flying colours.’
‘Well that’s nice. So I’m not dead yet then?’
‘No. Not dead yet. Fit as a fiddle.’
Fit as a fiddle? I don’t know about that.’
‘There aren’t many ninety-five year olds carrying on like you do.’
‘Who’s ninety-five?’
‘You are.’
‘I’m not!’
‘’Fraid so.’
‘That’s a shame. Well – what can you do about it? Not much, I ‘spect!’
She folds her arms and looks round the room.
‘When’s Pete coming to see me?’

4 thoughts on “not dead yet

  1. Ground hog day, we have those so much. Such a shame when they want to go home to mother but don’t realise they have been dead many years, but instead of putting them through the grief again, it’s best to tell them white lies to pacify them. So difficult.

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  2. It must be so difficult. Maybe the easiest thing is simply to restate the facts each time in the hope that some of it will stick. Maybe Phil needed to acknowledge for himself the simple fact that his brother was dead, rather than pretend he’d be walking in the door soon. And what would happen if for some reason she started to remember the lie, and go on about him coming to see her soon? Whichever way you look at it, a painful situation for the family. The only consolation was that they were having to go through it so many times it was losing its sharp edges.

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