Memories of Don
Memories of Don
by Rachel Dymond
posted 5 May 2011
First of all, let me say that it has been a pleasure to care for dear Don [Stevens] over the past few months.
It was with some trepidation that I first accepted the role Don offered me but I decided that if I was his choice that it was ‘meant to be’. In preparation for which Anna de Poulney, Renate Moritz and I spent a day at Don’s flat getting it spic and span prior to his arrival home after a very long absence. We measured doorways
and the ‘turns’ between the rooms to ensure that Don’s wheelchair could be accommodated and with no more than an inch to spare we were soon ready for Don’s return.
With everything in order, my husband Dennis and I set off to St. Pancras station to meet Don from his unaccompanied journey back to London from Paris. As he was wheeled through the barrier the Don who greeted me looked tired and frail but was very excited to be going ‘home’.
We managed to get him, his wheelchair, his walking frame and his luggage into the car before setting off on the journey back to Hammersmith Grove. Once inside Don was glad to sit down and rest and immediately began to negotiate our ‘contract’ …. I told him it was something that would wait until another time. He then went on to tell Dennis and I that there had been a concerted effort made in France to put him into an ‘Old People’s Home’ and he emphatically stated that he
didn’t want that to happen either in Paris or in London. Both Dennis and I reassured him that we wouldn’t let that happen! By the time Dennis left and the excitement of being back home had subsided, it became apparent just how very fragile dear Don was.
He mostly moved from his bed to the couch via the bathroom in his wheelchair but in the first instance every bump and jolt over an uneven floor would cause him to wince with pain.
Nevertheless in true cavalier fashion Don was determined to do his best to improve.
Thus began a daily routine of breakfast, coffee, medicine, bathroom, exercises, a rest with the newspaper, classic FM on the radio, a protein drink and the ever present glass of water. By the time I’d had whizz round to make sure everything was clean and sweet smelling I’d make the most of Don’s instruction to sit down and have a cup of tea and a cigarette. I used to say to him ‘Don, I’ll go outside to smoke’. . . . ‘No you won’t’, he said, ‘if I can sit in board meetings behind closed
doors and windows with 20 or more men smoking their Havana cigars, then I can definitely allow you to smoke’. But he absolutely insisted that I stop doing whatever it was I was doing and he’d watch me. ‘Was it a good one’ he’d ask . . . ‘a nice relaxing one?’ Then we’d chat about things he wanted to do or for me to do them for him . . . or sometimes just sit quietly enjoying each others company.
Then I’d get Don his ‘three drops’ originally a whisky and water but later on it became a brandy and water. He’d happily sit with that for half an hour or so while I organized lunch. Always of course, this regime was frequently interrupted with visits from the doctor, the district nurses, the physiotherapists and the occupational therapists but Don would trust me to sort out his diary in such a way that he never had too many things happening in any one day and I always made
sure that I asked Don first so that he was kept ‘in the loop’.
As the days went by Don and I settled into a routine that started at 8 am when I arrived replete with his favourite paper, the International Herald Tribune. I would know if Don was up and out of bed that he was feeling pretty good and that if he was still in bed that he needed some extra care and attention. By the end of the day we would aim to have him feed and watered and back in bed by 8 pm — but it would often be 9 or 10 pm before I felt happy to leave him and it became apparent after the first 11 days that I needed a back up ‘relief’ team. It wasn’t easy finding people willing to commit to a 12-14 hour ‘shift’ of personal care but
Don resolutely refused to have more than one person in per day. Nevertheless, in true Baba style everything evolved naturally and organically; I got a day off every week or so and Don and I had lots of fun as he recounted the events of the previous day. For their support I must convey my deepest thanks to Alfred, Avril, Keith, Sally, Paul and Jan.
Dennis and I had two excursions with Don. One to Holland Park for some fresh air and a change of scenery which he loved . . . he saw the Japanese Garden, the peacocks and the spring blossom on the trees . . . though as usual he thought it was cold! I never knew how difficult it was to push a wheelchair through a park! We take it for granted that we can walk along the paths without realizing that the smallest bump or crack in the asphalt causes discomfort to the person being wheeled around. Our second trip was to the dentist as he had complained of toothache and while I wanted a dentist I knew would be kind and gentle, the only suitable one I knew was on the first floor! How proud Don was when he
managed to walk up the flight of stairs! Dennis had to get him down in his wheelchair of course.
As time went by, it became apparent that we needed to be able to get Don to have some sunshine and some fresh air. The first step was to have the hedge chopped down so that Don could see the sun, the sky and watch the people walking by. Then we hit a blip; the therapists wanted him to walk more and go outside more but the pavements were too bumpy for him to be safe. We put our heads together and decided the best place for Don to ‘walk’ was to the front garden. Then of course, Don being Don, he had to have a reason ‘why’ . . . here I take full responsibility for suggesting a bird table . . . So that Don could walk out and feed the birds as well as sitting indoors and watching them. Well, once I’d mentioned it I didn’t ever hear the end of it! ‘When is the bird table coming?’ was a regular question. Of course the bird table is still coming, but now it will say ‘God alone exists. In loving memory of Don Stevens’ around the border. It will certainly be done before Don’s funeral and the hearse will pull up outside so Don will visit his garden and bird house once.
He took great pains to make sure that I had signed instructions from him to conclude his affair in London and wrote and signed an open letter to the UK Baba Association with what he hoped would be an accepted plan for the future.
One of the things that Don was deeply committed to was the Berlin Seminar and when he first told me about it I questioned whether it was sensible for him to consider it. He said that he would go on his own if necessary but that he was definitely going. However, as time went by it became apparent that Don was becoming forgetful, repetitive and sometimes confused.
Nevertheless, his stature as a man of integrity and honesty always came shining through.
The following few days have become something of a whirlwind of recollections; Claude came for a few days but Don’s retreat into himself had begun. He was sleeping most of the time, though he would still have his three drops and his temptation, the exercise regime had been abandoned and he didn’t want to see anyone at all. Claude left on the Friday and on the Saturday and Sunday Don rallied somewhat, not over exerting himself but still reading his paper and talking. His chesty cough though would rake his frail frame and all the antibiotics he was
prescribed didn’t make any difference. I’d coerce him to walk a little or let me wash him and occasionally I’d get a smile from him. He would sometimes have conversations with someone (Baba?) which were largely beyond comprehension.
At one point, with tears in his eyes. He said he felt that he’d let Baba down by not going to Berlin. I told him that in his absence he had received a standing ovation for the completion of the last book, Listen, Humanity into German which completed the translation of God Speaks, Discourses and Listen, Humanity into French, German, Spanish and Italian.
By the Monday morning Don was still in bed when I arrived. I helped him get up, get washed and dressed and got his breakfast. By mid-morning he had rallied and we talked and laughed together and had lunch. I noticed a steady decline after lunch and would wipe him down with a damp cloth always trying to weigh up the benefits and consequences of calling in the doctor. I was always mindful of the fact that Don had said he wanted to die at home and it was a fine line
between hoping for another rally and preparing for the inevitable. At one point Don said ‘I just can’t bear the pain anymore’ so I asked him where the pain was. He said, ‘It’s everywhere’. I sat with him and held him and told him that he had achieved everything that Baba had asked him to do and that Meher Baba loved him dearly. I also told him that if Baba was calling him to Him, that it was OK for him to leave us. It was very late before I left on that
Monday night, I always waited until he was settled but that Monday evening seemed somehow timeless and precious.
The next day was a welcome day off with a lie in and a leisurely bath being the first order of the day. Jan was with Don and Dennis was doing the garden which Don was taking an active interest in. Just after lunch though, Jan phoned to say there had been a further deterioration in Don’s condition. That was not uncommon in the early afternoon because it was always so hot in Don’s flat and the sunshine now came pouring in. I said to give it an hour or two and call again if there was no change. Ten minutes later Dennis phoned to say that he
had seen Don and he thought I should come immediately. So within 20 minutes I was at Don’s and I talked and cajoled him and he perked up briefly then started to sleep again. Jan and I watched him and talked about whether or not to call the doctor in. We kept on watching him in the hope that there would be some indication that a recovery was in sight, but by 6 pm we knew we had to phone. The doctor arrived within the hour, examined Don and said he had a chest infection and was dehydrated and would be best served in hospital. The ambulance arrived soon after and Don was safely strapped in with Jan and I at his side and taken to Charing Cross Hospital. It was about 2:30 am before he was finally admitted with IV fluids plugged in and antibiotics, with a medical
proposal to do an endoscopy as they suspected a blockage in the gut.
The next few days went by in a blur. I had permission to go into the hospital early
and would feed Don his meals there were no more three drops but I always bought an ice-cream and took it upstairs for him and would feed it to him, as well as grapes cut in half and as much water as I could get him to take.
By that Monday evening I had discussed the situation with Jan and had made the decision that Don would be discharged and taken home rather than stay in hospital to undergo invasive tests etc. We then went to the London Baba Centre where Paul Gregory ran a Monday meeting and after arti we prayed that Baba would guide us and direct us to make the best possible choices on Don’s behalf. In His Infinite Compassion, at 5 am on the Tuesday morning we got a phone call from the hospital to say please come immediately as there had been a further decline.
When Dennis, Jan and I got to the ward the curtains were drawn around Don and six or seven medical personnel surrounded him. One of the doctors asked us to wait in the ‘day room’ which we did, then I suddenly remembered the decision not to let them interfere too much in the natural process. I went and told the doctors that the family decision was that there should be no medical intervention, which was clearly the right choice as they were just going to put Don on a ventilator, after which time they tucked him up and took away all their monitors and stuff and Dennis, Jan and I were allowed back in. Dennis quickly paid his respects and left Jan and I holding Don’s hands. I had asked the doctor, ‘How many hours?’ and she replied, ‘It’ll be minutes’.
So, we very quietly sang Welcome to my World, Amazing Grace and Morning has Broken. Then we said the Master’s Prayer and the Beloved God Prayer and then we started repeating Baba’s name in Don’s ear. After just a few minutes we realized that the oxygen mask was no longer moving. . . . Our Dearest Companion, Don Stevens, had once again been embraced by Baba and will remain with Him always.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to care for Don and there is no doubt that his legacy lives on. He was above and beyond everything else utterly devoted to serving his Beloved Master, Avatar Meher Baba.