The Nursing Home Transfer tells a great story of the deceased – their entire lives have been compressed into one room. They could have chosen anything from their homes, so the possessions inside the small room show what was most precious to them during their time here on Earth. I always find myself scanning the walls of family photographs while snapping on my gloves, distracted by all the cherished items – mementos from a garden once was, ornaments, war medals, books and stuffed toys showing wear and tear, perhaps from their childhood passed through generations.
It was a steamy Good Friday and sweating in my suit, I was replacing Easter eggs with body bags. Public holiday penalties on my mind and a fat paycheck, I pulled into the car park of the nursing home where I met my transfer partner who was already waiting. On-Call for the Easter weekend, we were on our sixth death call in twenty-four hours. I’m sure I saw an Easter Egg wrapper poking from his vest pocket.
‘A Holy day for a departure!’ He grinned, fixing his tie.
‘Too right!’ My eyes meeting with his as we headed towards the revolving doors. Bright carnations fluttered in the garden bed that lined the footpath.What started out to be regular transfer sadly became one of the most shocking. It wasn’t the condition of the body – I had been to far worse scenes in my time! It took the cake for the most absurd transfer due to family behavior. I literally had to pick my mandible from the floor!
When we entered the room with our stretcher, I found it quite fitting that Joyce was dressed in a silk nightie with a hand made Samoan Church Pall over the top of her. Crucifixes embroided on her robe, she looked like a stunning Church figure. A teary but smiling lady stood by her bedside and greeted us lovingly, even hugging us – explaining she was a “Hugger”. Dressed in a happy floral blouse, the Hugger said she had just arrived from Melbourne to say goodbye to her mother. As I asked her to sign the required Valuables paperwork, she refused shyly.
‘Oh! My brother, Peter. He is the executor. He will want to sign this.’ She shuddered.
We proceeded, snapping on our gloves and gently covering Joyce with a sheet. Almost waking the dead, a man barged through the door and approached the bed standing in our way of the stretcher.
‘They are the undertakers,’ the Hugger said softly to the man. I noticed how her friendly tone towards us shifted to a fearful tremble when she spoke to him. He crossed his arms across his chest and snorted: ‘Yeah, well, hurry up and do your business!’ I felt my jaw drop and quickly turned away from him. I secured the name tags around the deceased’s frail wrists and together my partner and I slid Joyce from her mattress onto the stretcher using the pat slide. As we went about our work, the man grabbed bits and pieces from around us – magazines, cushions and a few photo frames. He could not even wait until we were out of the room!
‘Hurry up, would you!’ he blasted, pushing past us so he could reach for various items of his late mother’s. The Hugger shot us an apologetic look and hung her head.
‘Do you mind…?’ I started, passing him the Valuables paperwork. ‘Could you please confirm that Mum was wearing these items?’
‘I don’t bloody care what she was wearing!’ he spluttered, spit spraying from his lips like a garden hose.
‘I’m sorry, Sir,’ I was in disbelief at this man’s behaviour! Right there next to the dead body of the woman who gave him life! ‘It is company protocol that we take your signature.’ Grunting, he scribbled along the dotted line. I gave him his copy and he screwed it into a ball and tossed it into the bin.
‘I would like to walk with you,’ the daughter smiled and followed behind as we wheeled her mother out of the room and down the narrow hall towards the elevator.
Now, this is where I wanted to take off a heel and peg it at Peter’s head! As we waited by the elevator for the door to spring open, the air was filled with a loud screeching sound like an unoiled train track. To our shock, Peter was pushing his mother’s chest of drawers down the hall. This man could not even wait for his dead mother to leave the room before he took her furniture!
Once back at the vehicle, I lifted the back door of the van and the daughter finally allowed a tear to stream her blush. I lifted and pushed, the stretcher wheels collapsing into lying position and I slid her mother into the back of the Body Collecting Van. ‘ The funeral arrangements…’ the Hugger stuttered. ‘I am not in charge of this, but I don’t think it is going to happen for some time. My siblings want to organise it and they are …rather challenging personalities.’
‘It’s okay,’ I smiled, resting my hand on her arm. She took my hand in hers and squeezed it in appreciation for the kindness she so evidently lacked in her family. ‘Now is not the time to worry yourself with decisions. We will be taking good care of mum and you can take all the time you need.’
‘Well, the only decisions to be made are for the funeral,’ the woman sighed. ‘Peter has already sold everything. The house sale was finalised last week. Mum was only sick a month when Peter put her home on the market!’
I am sure there is more to the story that led the son to drag his mother’s chest of drawers down the hallways, mere minutes after we had collected her body from the bed she died in. Perhaps Mum was a cranky old soul and Peter did not get along with her. Maybe there was a family feud going on and a lot of tension burned amongst the siblings. I don’t have an opinion on this (they say a dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it, after all) I do however, have a huge problem with people disrespecting the dead! The soul may have left it’s mortal shell, but they still deserve the same respect as you would give someone who is living!
Whether it’s Christmas, Easter or Thanksgiving, be grateful you have your frustrating family around you. Drunk Uncle Joe may be inappropriate again and the differences between your siblings have you downing that extra glass of wine!
Be grateful. Bite your tongue and be thankful they are even there to irritate you. You are lucky they care enough to spend this time by your side to celebrate.
You don’t want them clearing out your room the second you exhale your final breath, do you?