Madeleine Wrigley | Hannah Nolan
She was 70 years old when the disease set in and nearly ninety when the pain became unbearable for her. I longed for a cure, but knew there would be none forthcoming in the short time she had left on earth. I used to pray for a peaceful end to her life, as we wish for anyone.
One day, she wanted to go for a short jaunt to the end of the hall and then back again with her walker to get some exercise. I let her go by herself, with trepidation, as her body was riddled with osteoporosis and she was very unsteady on her feet. As I looked at her bent body, I shivered with revulsion of what the disease had done to her. She slowly drew near, I saw her. It was a dream, she was standing straight, no longer clutching on to her walker. I looked at her in disbelief. Her thinning blond hair appeared long and flowing in the gentle breeze she had created in the movement. Her face lit up with a gentle smile but lasted only for a minute and then I saw her body start to sloop once again, and her face became fraught with pain and determination. She clutched her walker once again and headed for her room.
I helped her into her chair and noticed the wrinkles on her arms cascade into the crooks of her elbows. Her breath was shallow due to the brief bout of exercise, and I so wanted to take a deep breath for her. Something that was impossible for her to do. The disease had caused her ribs to wrap themselves around her lungs, and were slowly crushing her to death. Her abdominal organs had been forced outward from her pelvis, due to the pressure caused from the bones in her body condensing and breaking. As I rubbed her back with lotion, my hands followed the smooth and rounded contours of her spine as they passed over each vertebrae, and I had an overwhelming urge to put my arms around her shoulders and gently straighten her spine. She laid back and I pulled the covers around her like a child.
Her name was Beatrice but I referred to her as my baby Bea and she was now so child like. She looked up at me in askance, as I was leaving, as she did every time, if I would be back the next day, and I assured her I would be. She caught what little breath she had while another spasm grabbed every fiber of her being, then slowly subsided. I looked down at her tiny body, which had shrunk to a fraction of the size it once was. My biggest fear was she would die alone, in the night, when I was not there. I hated it when she talked about the end and yet I prayed for her to die peacefully in her sleep. I would cowardly answer, you “will get better”.
A bereavement counselor once told me, old people die when they want to, and they can do so at will. Apparently Bea’s will was not that strong, or was it selfishness on my part because I couldn’t say the words “it’s okay to go if you want”. I watched her face and her body wrecked with pain as the spasms returned without warning and came more frequently. I hated the disease. The last time I saw her she looked deep into my eyes, and she begged me to put her out of her misery, to take the pain away once and for all. She told me I was the only one who could save her. I felt beguiled, how could I end this pain for her, how could I not? How could I even entertain the thought of ending her life? How could I continue to watch her wither and eventually die a slow painful death? At her age and lung capacity, It would surely be quick. I could lay the pillow across her face, there wouldn’t be much of a struggle, she was too feeble to fight even if she wanted to.
In my mind I saw her hands come up to grasp mine, as it would be a natural reaction to fight for breath. I wondered how long it would take for her to stop breathing. Would I hear anything, would she attempt to cry out, would the pillow be enough to muffle the sound, if there was any? I began to think about the repercussions. Was anyone going to give a second thought to a ninety year old lady who was found dead in her bed? One who had been on permanent oxygen and in such terrible condition? The pillow stared me in the face, almost daring me to pick it up and feel it’s softness.
After much deliberation I told her to lay back and rest her weary bones.