Monday, 1 April 2013

Two Lives End

Margaret was a woman for whom 'faithfulness' was an inadequate word. She was born in Swanvale Halt but became a nun (to the disapproval of the then Rector who said her responsibility was to stay at home and look after her mother) and some years later had to leave her order after discovering that the climate in Africa (its mission field) didn't agree with her. She carried on nursing, and being sacristan to a series of churches, both Anglican and Roman Catholic. When I arrived in Swanvale Halt, Margaret was already disabled, making her way slowly about the village with the aid of her trolley, usually packed with a mixture of ecclesiastical bits and pieces and baking necessaries. She carried on making cakes for people even when she could barely move around the kitchen. She'd had an operation some years before to fuse some spinal vertebrae, and desperately needed another, but spent a year and more waiting for leg ulcers and other problems to clear up. By late 2011 it was all arranged, but at the last minute a blood test revealed some anomalous results and Margaret was sent home again. Just after Christmas she suffered a perforated bowel almost certainly because of the colossal amount of painkillers she was taking. I spent a night by her bedside in hospital reading the Gospel of St John (her favourite) as it seemed like it would be her last, but no: there remained over a year of immense pain, frustration, going home and back into hospital again, before finally she succumbed to the pain (which was never satisfactorily diagnosed) and medication and died a couple of weeks ago.

Zadie's case was very different and I can say less about her. She was a friend, born in the opposite sex to the one she ended in, who was clearly very, very mixed up; every suggestion you ever made about how her life might be improved was pushed away with elaborate and very convincing explanations, social and medical, of why it wouldn't. The mental health 'system' swung into its usual state of inaction and buck-passing, and left her floundering repeatedly when what she really needed was to be hospitalised and her life run for her until she was able to run it for herself. She alienated people on a regular basis, flung implausible accusations at former friends, and built a narrative of marginalisation and misery which, however false and self-defeating it may have been, was indeed founded on great physical and emotional pain. In the end the Enemy got the better of her and she ended her life a few days ago.

Life made the bodies and minds of both Margaret and Zadie a battleground in ways which most of us don't have to undergo. But that battle is one we are all involved in, to a greater or lesser degree; and how we fight it is largely determined by the weapons life gives us and where we find ourselves along the front line. We have no cause for anything but sorrow, and commend these souls to him that made them.

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