‘Looking for sunshine, but living in the rain’

Elderly woman's hands on a walker
Elderly woman's hands on a walker

Sheila blinked as she came through the mist of the drug- induced coma.

The solemn subdued voices of her family gradually faded as one by one they turned their heads towards her.

She blinked again at the ashen faces of her two sons and three grandchildren focused on her.

She could see no colour anywhere.

Everything was grey.

“How are you feeling?” was the anxious question on everyone’s lips but before Sheila could answer, a nurse shooed the visitors from the room as she bustled towards the bed.

Sheila’s eyes followed her around taking in the machines, tubes and other medical paraphernalia.

A hospital?

She tried to speak but the nurse hushed her telling her to rest.

Her two sons briefly reappeared.

They were pleased to see her awake and promised to return the next day.

She lay back against the pillows and tried to make sense of what had happened. Sheila had no recollection of how she came to be in hospital.

She had no idea of what was wrong.

Her mind was in turmoil as she tried to take it all in. The confusion frightened her.

Usually her thoughts were orderly; her brain as neat and uncluttered as her appearance and house.

For days Sheila lay in her bed. Every time she tried to speak she was hushed and told to wait until she was stronger.

Grey walls and fabrics surrounded her.

No colour anywhere, nothing to distinguish between day and night.

Even the plastic aprons the nurses wore appeared grey over their dark uniforms.

She was incarcerated in a colourless bubble, there was no escape.

Kevin, Sheila’s eldest son, had something on his mind, she could always tell.

Ever since he was a boy she had been able to read his body language.

She shifted uncertainly in her bed, her fingers scratched at the worn off-white sheet.

The longer he prevaricated the more concerned she grew.

Eventually he spoke, slowly and carefully to start with.

Then his words tumbled towards her as he stammered in his anxiety to deliver the news.

She felt as if she was floundering.

With her eyes closed to hold back tears, Sheila took in the enormity of Kevin’s message.

The hospital could do no more; they needed the bed; she was being moved to a nursing home.

A stroke caused the paralysis which affected her right side.

Gently Kevin told her, as if she needed to be reminded, she was unable to look after herself.

Her recovery could take months, years even; though it was doubtful she would ever be independent again.

Cruel, cruel boy. It was too much.

She opened her eyes and peered at Kevin. With the merest movement of her left index finger she pointed to the door.

Her son leaned towards her but she turned her head away to face the wall until she heard his footsteps disappear down the corridor.

Anger replaced her tears of sorrow.

“How dare they?” she questioned.

Emotionally drained she fell asleep.

Over the next few days her family tried desperately to keep the atmosphere light as they extolled the virtues of the new arrangements.

Sheila could only listen.

Inside her head she screamed but no sound came. The worse thing of all was losing her ability to speak.

The day she left hospital was a dreary February day. The lines of trees on the horizon bowed wearily beneath the heavy damp grey skies. Sheila looked about her, everything was somber. It matched her mood. The nursing home appeared through the mist, it was a large foreboding Edwardian country house. When she was wheeled into the room she recognised some pieces from her home; a few favourite pictures, a clock, chest of drawers and so on. It made the situation final; she wouldn’t be going home.

Every day she was invited to join the other residents but Sheila always declined. Her head drooped heavily causing her neck to sink beneath her collar as she squirmed to shrink further into her chair. How could she meet others when the only thing to come from her mouth was the wretched dribbling? She dabbed at her lips once more. She didn’t want others to see her like this.

The grey February days continued. No colour to lighten her mood or thoughts. In the privacy of her darkened room tears often flowed as she silently sobbed, ‘why had it come to this?’ Her head was unbearable. Nothing seemed to clear the confusion. It felt stuffed, not with light fluffy duvet thought clouds where light and air could penetrate, but thick grey scratchy dense blankets which allowed nothing to pass through. Depression took over, she felt her life ebb. There was no point in carrying on.

The family visited when they could. They found it difficult to keep her spirits raised when she was so negative about everything and conversations were one sided. She didn’t seem to try any more. She showed no interest in herself or her surroundings. Kate, fed up with her grandmother’s behaviour, didn’t even bother to remove the ear piece of her iPod; she sat in the corner listening to music while reading a magazine.

After a bit she started to nod her head, and then she joined in,

“I’m looking for the sunshine, living in the rain,” she sang melodically.

For the first time in weeks a lopsided smile slid across Sheila’s lips. Kate looked up in alarm.

“Sorry Gran, did I disturb you?”

Sheila shook her head and reached down for her notepad. “It’s how I feel,” she scrawled falteringly.

“Oh, you poor Gran,” cried Kate distressed; she jumped up to give Sheila a comforting squeeze then crossed the room.

“Look, turn around and LOOK!” Kate went to the window and pulled back the curtains to show Sheila that, after weeks of dreary weather, the sun was shining.

The smile came again, Sheila’s mood lifted slightly.

When it was time to leave Kate offered her iPod to Sheila.

As she gently put the ear piece in place she lightly suggested,

“Keep listening Gran, the sun is on its way, you’ll see.”