In the commercial centre next to the Domaine, there’s a company which supplies a band of qualified and dedicated nurses to look after those residents who have need of their services. These were the nurses that took care of changing my beloved’s dressings on his leg, giving him daily anti-coagulant injections and generally keeping an eye on him until he was well on the road to recovery. They provide a vital service enabling hospitals to discharge patients and have them cared for in their own homes, something everyone greatly prefers. For many of the Domaine’s elderly residents, this service means they don’t have to go into old-people’s or care homes.
The nursing service has for the past seven months or so looked after one of our neighbours whose health has rapidly declined in recent years, and particularly so since she broke her leg. We first met her when we moved into the block, she lived in the flat directly below our’s and was the epitome of a chic French woman with a huge amount of joie de vivre. We thought she was probably in her mid-sixties but, on getting to know her better, realised we’d underestimated her age by some 20 years. She used to drop in regularly for a glass of champagne or afternoon tea while we regaled her with tales of our latest travels. Her late husband had been a military attaché and they’d pretty much travelled the globe together. She was great company and we often took her out with us to various local events.
Every Christmas I’d buy her a copy of the Rois du Stade calendar which she would proudly hang on her bedroom wall. It was a bit of a standing joke between us. Until recently, she’d led a fairly busy life socially, enjoying trips abroad to visit her younger sister, who’d married a US serviceman and lived in Arizona. About five years ago, our neighbour suffered a series of small strokes from which she initially recovered but gradually they started to erode the quality of her life until she couldn’t go out unaccompanied. Then her eyesight started to fail so she could no longer enjoy the magnificent views from her balcony, read or watch television or enjoy my calendars! She spent more and more time at home but still employed a personal trainer so that she stayed trim. I’d pop in from time to time for a chat with small gifts from our travels. Other neighbours also visited regularly. But there was no denying, her quality of life was deteriorating rapidly, a point she appreciated, often saying she longed for death.
Earlier this year, she suffered the same injury as my beloved, she broke her leg but it had much greater ramifications for her quality of life. Initially, the doctors feared that an operation under general anaesthetic might kill her but, eventually, having stabilised the leg, doctors pinned it back together. However, she’d been bed-bound since the accident and wholly reliant on our marvellous local nursing service who popped in to help her throughout the day. Respite was occasionally provided by either her niece or nephew who both visited frequently, and her cleaner who still came in twice a week to make sure that her flat remained spotless. Not forgetting numerous neighbours, like me, who’d pop in from time to time, but only for a short while as she tired rapidly.
The last time I visited her, she looked incredibly frail, her skin translucent. Her body was letting her down. She barely opened her eyes. A week or so ago, I bumped into her primary care nurse who told me that she doubted my neighbour would see out the week. She’d taken matters into her own hands and had stopped eating and drinking. This was a device employed by both my late parents towards the end of their respective illnesses. My neighbour, like them, had had enough and just wanted to check out. Or as my Dad would say, she’d moved from the waiting room to the departure lounge.
You’ll have spotted my use of the past tense. I recently learned that she’d passed away but her nephew, who I’d met a few times, hadn’t thought to let any of the residents or the nursing service know about her funeral arrangements. I don’t enjoy funerals – who does? – but, if possible, I’d have attended this one as I was very fond of her, as were other residents. I had anticipated her funeral would be a celebration of her full and very interesting life and I’m now bitterly regretting I never managed to get her to record that life in some fashion. Our collective dismay has been conveyed to her nephew.
It’s the end of an era, because she was the last surviving member of my band of elderly neighbours who would occasionally have afternoon tea with me. Aside from a selection of fine teas, occasionally champagne too, I would make small scones to eat with home-made jam, finger sandwiches of cucumber, smoked salmon and ham along with petits fours sized cakes. I enjoyed inviting them round and I know they appreciated the gesture and opportunity for a chat. Maybe, now they’ll be having tea-parties together in heaven?