The blue taffeta dress

Caroline Craig, Sweden, shares a very personal story that led to her own involvement in palliative care.

I would like to share with you why I became interested in palliative care. I had arrived back in Ireland to find that my mother had been admitted to a medical unit with respiratory problems. She suffered with dementia. My father was reluctant to put her into a home; he would tend to her needs.

I rang my brothers and sisters and told them that our mother was very ill and that her house was damp and needed renovating. We took turns in going down to visit her so that she would not feel lonely. We sat and listened to our mother’s stories. We listened to Glen Miller’s ‘In the mood’ and she smiled as memories flooded her tear-filled eyes. We renovated each room and by Friday the doctor wanted to talk to us about our mother’s wellbeing. My sister asked what was palliative care? The doctor explained it in such an eloquent way saying that my mother had responded well to the present treatment and she would be discharged home on Monday. Hope filled the room.

My mother wearing her blue taffeta dressPhoto: courtesy of the Craig Family.

My mother wearing her blue taffeta dress
Photo: courtesy of the Craig Family.

I spent Saturday with my mother. She had placed her three nightdresses on the bed neatly folded. I asked what she was doing. She replied that she was not quite sure which dress she would wear to the local dance. I asked which was her favourite. She replied that she had just purchased a blue taffeta dress at Moriarty’s store. I asked if she’d bought it for a special occasion. “Oh yes”, she replied. “I have met Joseph [my father] and he has invited me to the local dance.” I asked her to tell me how things turned out the next time we met. I gave her a kiss on the cheek and a hug.

I travelled back to Sweden that Sunday morning and my mother was discharged home on Monday afternoon. She was happy with the house and spent three hours there before she was admitted to the Accident and Emergency department of the local hospital.  My brothers and sister were called. The priest came and gave our mother the last rites. My sister rang me and said, “Caroline, the nurse says that Ma is dying and I don’t know what to say to her.” I told her to go back into the room: “Tell her that you love her, tell her to put on the blue taffeta dress and say that you will be waiting for her at the entrance of the ballroom, that Glen Miller will be playing ‘In the mood’ – and don’t be late.”

A most extraordinary thing happened. For four minutes, the monitors all returned to normal – four golden minutes.

Ma died in June. My sister once asked: “What really happened in the casualty room?” With a heart- filled smile I said, “you put her in a state of grace and she is now dancing in the ballroom of romance, listening to Glen Miller playing ‘In the mood.’ The thing she loved the most.”

I am reminded of the words of Dame Cicely Saunders: “You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life. We will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die.”

She spoke a great truth and I am eternally grateful, for those words give me comfort. I now work as a nurse on a palliative ward in Sweden.

Making the case for palliative care: stories from across the world
You can read other ‘best or worst case stories’ that show the need for palliative care on the web pages of the Prague Charter. The Prague Charter demonstrates how we can all work together to advocate access to palliative care as a human right. Please visit the web page and think about sharing your story.  (Guidance on how to submit your story is on the Prague Charter web page).

Prague Charter QR Avaaz

Prague Charter QR EAPCwebsite

Please support the Prague Charter by signing the petition.

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