Gwendoline Gleeson

I didn’t know Gwendoline Gleeson.  I don’t know if people called her Gwen or maybe Gwenny. I know she was a mother but I don’t know how many children she had. I don’t know if she worked outside of the home, volunteered or cooked a mean lamb roast. All I know is that she was an 89 year old lady, living in a nursing home. An 89 year old lady who was strapped to a toilet and then left for two hours. Forgotten.

She died.

Yesterday I went to see my GP. For various reasons, I had had a series of blood tests last week and I was going back in for the results. It turns out I’m fine, but I’m showing some signs of age. I was saying how unfit I was after breaking my ankle and my GP replied “yes, and some of it is probably your age, you’re just getting older”. I forced a smile, reminded myself that she too was my age and decided it was time for glass of wine.

If you’ve been lucky enough to escape a serious illness,  ageing in your twenties can mean a slower recovery from a hangover or perhaps a need for the occasional early night. In your thirties you might end up needing an arthroscopy, moles removed, or if you’re unlucky you might do your back in.

In your forties, things start to get a bit more serious. People begin to suggest you get your cholesterol checked, you notice your teeth don’t look the same and then one day you realize your ears are still growing but your head’s not. Why is that?

My girlfriend commented the other day that her husband had a stray hair growing out of his nose, not the inside, the outside. Right in the middle of his nose. “I think you might be sleeping with an old man” another girlfriend joked. Everyone laughed but the truth was, if he was an old man, we were all old women.

I think most of us don’t want to get old, not just because we gain a sense of our own mortality but we can see what’s in our future. We’re an ageing population, we see the decline of the human body and mind all around us. Walking frames, meals on wheels and incontinence pads are not sexy.

Nobody wants to be reminded that one day we may find ourselves in the same position as Gwendoline Gleeson, completely dependent on the kindness of others. We don’t want to be reminded that we won’t only lose the ability to do certain things, but we may also lose our dignity in the process. Or perhaps, like in Gwendoline’s case, we’ll have our dignity stolen. How do you want to die? How do you want to be remembered? I imagine it’s not strapped to a toilet.

Gwendoline Gleeson, died of a heart attack last August. If that was all there was to the story, it wouldn’t have become a news item. I wouldn’t know her name.

I know her name because she was strapped to a toilet and left, she had a heart attack and then died. She was found on the next nursing shift, two hours later. The nursing home that she was living in, had a total of 30 beds. It doesn’t sound very big does it? Thirty beds.

I didn’t know Gwendoline Gleeson but I hope it’s a long time before her story is forgotten. She should never be forgotten again.


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