Wednesday, July 10, 2013
In the hospital again
I’m thinking of my version of Celestina. Of the speech where she talks about old age:
CELESTINA Old age is an inn of infirmities, a hostelry of sad thoughts, a friend only to bitterness and continual grief. Old age, lady, who could describe it? Describe its aches and inconvenience, its weariness and cares, its diseases, its cold shivers, its hot flushes, its rancour and discontentment, its misery and grief. The wrinkling of the face, the greying and thinning of the hair, deafness in the ears, blindness in the eyes, the hollowing of the eye sockets, sinking of the mouth, toothlessness of the gums, feebleness in walking, lack of strength in lifting, slowness in feeding.
MELIBEA Mother why do you speak so much evil of a state so many so vehemently desire to attain?
CELESTINA They desire a glut of suffering and travail. They wish to reach old age because it is sweet to live and as we live we grow old. So the boy wishes to become a youth, and the youth a man, and the man an old man, and the old man wishes to become older still, for all the pain of it. And all for the sake of living.
I think of it because I’m on my way to the Western General hospital to visit my mother-in-law and the passage very beautifully expreses her desire to go on iving. Whatever the cost.
And I think of it because that show opened in the King’s theatre in August 2004 as part of the International Festival and it was sometime between the dress rehearsal on the Friday and the opening on the Monday that we learnt my partner Susie was to die of a brain tumour. Also in the Western.
And so the journey to that hospital is always a fraught one for me, full of grief and anger and dread, and at the end of it I found Jean sitting up in a chair in the assessment unit, a bit semi-detached, not altogether sure how she got there, but still interested in the goings on about her, still taking a keen interest in the soup she’ll get for her tea, hoping it’s better than the brown stuff she gets at the care home, proudly pulling up her nightie to show off how well her skin graft is healing, the one she had to have at her last time in hospital (only a very few weeks ago). Still talking about how much she wants to get the operation to have her cataracts fixed, still hoping she’ll get her walking better again...
My being transsexual upsets her, so she ignores it; just as she ignores the fact she is slowly dying. She treats death with utter disdain, absolutely acts as if she were not present. Holds onto her love of her great grandson and her granddaughters and the view from her window and the flowers that grow on her window sill.
And I’m sure I would be able to be more encouraging if it didn’t hurt me to be so constantly referred to as her “son-in-law John” and if I didn’t have death’s words ringing in my ears.
Death’s words to my Ines:
Who are you?
I don't want to know you.
No-one does. They're all the same. Go to my neighbour, they
say. Keep away from me. I say, I don't want your neighbour. Yet. It's you I'm after. They say get away! Get away from me! But they've got to sleep, haven't they. Everyone's got to sleep. So I creep in and takes away their sight. Not all at once, that would be a waste. But bit by bit, so the world gets darker. You've got to start somewhere.
And some of them dig in their heels. So I'll take away their money
& their livelihood. Their dignity. Their little pleasures. I say, come on, you don't need any of these. Not where you're going. You've
got to give them up sometime. So why not now? And they say not yet. Not yet. Give us a little longer please
And I say I'm only an old woman. Come on. Don't you be scared of me. What are you frightened of? I don't mean you any harm.
And don't think you're special, don't think you're being singled out. I come to everyone
& if they still resist I'll sit on their chest. How their hearts flutter. Or take away their minds. Or break their bones. Some turn yellow.
Others blue. Some of them do thresh about. Sometimes I fill their chests with water and they drown in it. They call that a quiet death. They call it dying in your bed. People hanker after it, when they live in violent times. More fool they.
The harder they hang on, the harder I've to pull, you see. Its not that I'm vindictive.
You'll have more sense. I know you will. You worried cause
you're young? I think you're better off myself. You don't want to get old. Believe me. I know old bodies. I creep around inside. Heaps of rubbish everywhere. And the smell. Of cause, you gets used to it. But you don't want to go through that. You still smell sweet.
I have to leave her in the end, as you do, and as i walk away i feel exhausted, somehow as if I have lost a little of my will to live.
The sun is shining and it’s hot and the streets are full of a rare and sticky kind of contentment.
But I see death everywhere; I see the older people, like Jean, like me, engaged in the lifelong invisible implacable struggle against their dying. I see the death of a society that knows its way of life is founded on injustice and excessive consumption and cannot be maintained and yet which cannot change.
But I’ve no right to criticise or condemn Jean, that old lady so full of dignity, still, and so indomitably brave.
But I know I don’t want to die like that. Die in denial. I want to learn to learn look death in the eye. Learn how to die well.
Die well in order to learn to live better.
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