In former times, her ability to foretell someone’s death might have led to her being condemned as a witch, but it was an ability that was based on nothing other than powers of observation.
Sitting with her one day in a nursing home, she looked around at other residents.
‘Do you know, if you go down the corridor and look into the room opposite my doorway, you’ll see the ‘dead bed’.
‘What do you mean?’
‘When they think you’re on the way out, they move you to that room. I watch them come and go from my room. They have low light in there. If you’re in one of those big chairs, you are on the list’.
She looked across the room at two residents seated in big chairs – ‘they’re OK for the time being’.
The rest of the conversation had been entirely lucid; I could only assume that in her time in the nursing home she had noticed a high correlation between needing one of the ‘big chairs’ and having only a short time left.
I was going to object, ‘I have seen people for years in those chairs’, but there is nothing worse than someone objecting to a thesis to which you have devoted a great deal of time.
The afternoon tea was brought around, the carer knowing what the lady would want without needing to ask.
As she lifted the teacup to her lips, a large chair holding a frail looking woman was wheeled through the lounge. ‘She’s next on the list’, the lady declared.
Was the ashen faced woman that had passed us really heading for the dead bed? Or was the comment just born from a sense of frustration at being enclosed in an environment where there was only one escape?
A nurse unlocked the door to allow me to return to the world from which I had come. Casting a glance back over my shoulder, I wondered what it might be like to be on the inside, to know that there would never again be a moment when you walked out, free to go and do as you wished.
It would not be possible to fault the nursing home – clean, bright, comfortable, full of smiling and friendly staff – there was nothing more they could have done for the comfort and welfare of the residents, but would I choose to be there?
I think I can understand why people cling on to their independence – there is no need to watch out for the big chairs.