Real life events inspire my writing, and here is an example from ‘Walk in the Afterlight’. Rainstones House in the novel is a fictional place where one wing is a hospice and the other a residential dementia care home. The hospice scenes in the story are from my experiences being a volunteer at a local hospice a few years ago. I occasionally assisted in the Day Patient Unit, but my main role entailed visiting a patient with a life-limiting illness at their own home. I was assigned to a delightful elderly lady, many years a widow, whose life expectancy was about one year due to stomach cancer. When I started visiting her she was a lively person. Always beautifully dressed, with her nails painted, her hair immaculate, she would sit on the sofa and tell me stories about her life and give her opinions on current events. I so enjoyed our conversations and debates on all sorts of topics. Of course she was frail and the physical changes in her in the time I visited were all too apparent, but after a couple of months I began to notice mental changes too. These were so rapid it seemed that one week she was the lady who looked forward to my visits and the next she seemed not to know me at all. She kept asking who I was and if she owed me money. I had been advised to answer her questions each time as if it was the first time she’d asked me, so I would tell her my name, explain that I came every week, and she didn’t owe me any money. She would accept what I said for a short while and then ask me again. And again. And again.
All too soon she was bed-bound, not knowing who and where she was. Clearly she had dementia, and this could have been the result of the cancer reaching her brain. Whatever caused it, the vibrant lady I had known had completely disappeared and I found myself wondering: ‘where has she gone’?
I was not sad when she died for she had told me early on in our acquaintance that she knew her husband was waiting for her to join him, and she was looking forward to dancing with him again. When the hospice contacted me to tell me of her passing, this is how I chose to think of her.
I never forgot her and as the idea for this novel began to take shape in my mind, the experience with her was the trigger-point. Through extensive research I learned of some intriguing and wonderful theories about what might happen to us when the mind no longer functions but the body goes on living, and this is what the story is about.
(Previously published as ‘The Waiting Gate’)
Jane, 28th October 2020