When the vicar, Sarah, arrived yesterday to see my grandmother and to say a prayer for her, she walked into the room and said “Oh, it doesn’t look like Dora.”
Far from being an insensitive comment, it was tinged with tenderness and some surprise. Of course, she would have always seen my grandma at church dressed smartly in a skirt and navy blue blazer with court shoes, beautiful white hair perfectly curled–always immaculate. But her observation ran deeper than that, for me.
There is something that, when it begins to fade, makes the person look less and less like themselves. The light dims. The essence, the soul, spirit, consciousness, whatever you want to call it, draws back from the body and we begin to see the body for what it is. A shell.
An incredible, beautiful, miraculous shell that we should take care of and nourish while we inhabit it–but a shell nonetheless.
I felt this deeply when I went to see my grandad last year in the chapel of rest. He was dressed smartly in his RAF tie and suit, and his face was smooth and relaxed, a half-smile on his lips, but it wasn’t him. I couldn’t relate to that body as I had to my beloved grandfather. His life, his consciousness, had left the physical form and I remember telling my mum that I felt closer to him walking past the wildflowers growing on the way out of the church than I did in that peaceful, dark room.
My grandma is still here, but her body is weakening. Her pulse is shallow and thready, and her breathing is laboured. I hope that she goes peacefully when she is ready. Given all of the signs, it is very likely to be tonight.
She is still here at the moment, and warm, but I know that her essence, her consciousness, her spirit has started to drift beyond the form and that all of the wonderful, unique things that made her Dora are not reflected in the frail body lying at home in the hospital bed.
Still, for now, we hold her hand. We feel her warmth and observe every familiar feature of her face and delicate mole on her skin. We watch and we wait. We sigh and we talk. We cry and we remain silent. We hug and we laugh.
We hold our breath.