One of the things I like about working in Long Term Care (LTC) is the relationships we develop with residents over time. We get to know our residents almost as well as we know our own families, sometimes even better than we know our own families. This is also one of the things I don’t like about working in LTC. After Death takes a resident and an empty space is all that is left. The resident’s bed is empty, where they used to sit in the dining room is empty; there is a sense of emptiness throughout the building and that emptiness can be deafening.
The worst part of a death is the silence that accompanies the emptiness. Their names aren’t mentioned in the daily reports and are removed from the care lists. Their special dietary slips aren’t printed anymore. The name on the door is gone. Their old pictures and cards are missing from the walls of their room. Their chart is put into storage. The existence of that person is wiped away from the white board of LTC life.
There is a poem called “Funeral Blues” written by W.H. Auden. The first line of the first stanza comes to mind when that special person leaves with Death: “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.” I desperately want the clocks to stop and the phone to stop ringing. I want time to stand still for 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour. I want to stop moving, to stop marching forward with time and grieve over the awful silent void left by my special resident’s departure. But clocks don’t stop. Phones keep ringing because the living can’t wait and time marches on.
W. H. Auden
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West.
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.