Posts Tagged ‘death and dying’

Anna

November 26, 2013

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I was drawn to Anna’s room this morning because I missed her in the dining room at breakfast. She was always there before me. As I clocked in at the nursing home each morning, and walked through the big open room, no one would be there but Anna. She’d wave me over, and make me twirl in front of her old eyes so she could marvel at my outfit for the day. If she absolutely loved the entire ensamble, she’d clap her hands, and reach out to kiss me. Otherwise, she’d give me a compliment on the bit of pink in my scarf, or the buckle on my belt, or tell me the blue of my blouse matched my eyes.

She wasn’t there this morning. At ninety-six, she’s been like one of those proverbial cats with nine lives. She’s fought off every cold and pneumonia that came her way, and continued to smoke through it all. “When you’re my age, honey, and you’ve lost all your real loves, your twin sister, your husband, your friends, who cares if you die from lung cancer? There’s no one left to grieve for you, and I love me a cigarette.”

I went to her room where I found her small frail body nestled among blankets and pillows. The oxygen tubing ran from her nose to a whirring machine at her bedside. Her eyes were closed and she struggled with every shallow breath.

I pulled up a chair, and took her hand. I sat for a long time rubbing my thumb across the fragile vein-lined skin of her hand. I remembered our trip to the football game where her husband’s University of Virginia Cavaliers played her Virginia Tech Hokies. She stood and cheered and laughed about how her husband was frowning down on her antics from heaven. “He never was a good loser,” she’d said.

At times Anna searched for Virginia, her twin. When reminded that Virginia had passed away some years ago, Anna would say, “Oh hell, that’s right. Once you’re connected with someone from the start, it’s hard to let go.”

As I got up to leave Anna’s bedside, I leaned over and hugged her one last time. I whispered in her ear that it was alright to let go, that Virginia and that Cavalier husband of hers were waiting for her with their arms outstretched, all she had to do was let go. I kissed her forehead and told her I loved her.

Anna completed her journey on this earth today. Godspeed my friend

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Her Still, Perfect Form (part 3-fin)

March 10, 2013

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Part 1 here: https://trainswhistle.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/her-still-perfect-form-part-1/

Part 2 here: https://trainswhistle.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/her-still-perfect-form-part-2/

Part 3

Emma was in the bed by the door, oxygen tubing in her nose, an IV attached to her bruised arm. Her eyes were closed.

“Oh my God, what happened?” Jack asked. “Was she in some sort of an accident? Emma, Sweetheart, can you hear me?”

Emma opened her eyes and gave a faint smile. “Hello Jack,” she said in a whisper.

“Do you know who this is?” Jack asked.

“Of course I know who you are Jack,” she said, before closing her eyes again.

He took her hand in his. “It’s cold as ice,” he said, rubbing it between his two. Then, he bowed his head and said to no one in particular, “Oh God, what happened to my baby?”

The driver put a hand on Jack’s shoulder, and said, “Emma fell last week, and broke her hip.”

“Oh my poor baby,” he said. “I know how that feels. I fell on a rail in the coal mines one time and dislocated my hip. It was so painful. Do you think she’s in pain? Emma, are you in pain, Sweetheart?” he asked.

Emma opened her eyes again and said, “Everything hurts.”

“I’m going to the desk to find the nurse, Jack,” the driver said. “You sit here with Emma. I’ll be right back.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Jack said.

In a few minutes the nurse came into the room with a syringe.

Jack looked up. “I’m Jack Arthur, Emma’s husband. What happened to her?” he asked.

“She had surgery on her hip,” the nurse said.

“What?” Jack asked.

In a louder voice, the nurse re-stated, “She fell and broke her hip. She had surgery on Saturday.”

“Oh my poor Emma,” Jack said. “Why didn’t someone tell me she fell? When did this happen? I could have been here with her.”

Jack turned back to Emma and took her hand. He rubbed and patted it, watching her face. She opened her eyes and tried to smile at him.

The nurse looked at Jack and then at the driver. “I’m so sorry,” she said, shaking her head.

The nurse injected the syringe of medicine into the IV and left the room.

“The nurse gave her some pain medication, Jack,” the driver said. “She’ll probably sleep now. I think we should let her rest.”

Jack pushed up from the wheelchair with effort. His legs shook, barely holding his weight as he leaned over Emma’s frail body. He stroked her cheek with bent fingers. Putting his face very close to hers, he asked again, “Do you know who this is?”

Emma looked so small and fragile there in the bed with tubes running from her arm and to her nose with oxygen. Her usually neat, coiffed hair was in a tangle on her head and her face was so pale it blended with the white of the pillow case. She looked up at Jack and said again, “Of course I know who you are Jack.”

He had turned his good ear to her mouth after he asked the question. “Of course you know who I am,” he said. “I’m the man who beats you within an inch of your life every day.”

Emma smiled. They both chuckled at the long running joke between them. Jack moved his hand to Emma’s shoulder. It was bare where the faded blue and white hospital gown had slipped off. Her shoulder was thin and fit in Jack’s palm. He rubbed her skin before pulling the gown back up. He moved in close again, right over Emma’s face and said, “I need you to get better and come back to me. I miss you.”

Emma closed her eyes tightly, then opened them again. She lifted her hand with effort to Jack’s head and smoothed his white hair. She put on a weak smile again and whispered, “I miss you too.”

As he had done every night since they were married, Jack kissed her forehead, then, each of her eyelids, and finally, moved to her mouth. Emma lifted her lips to his and they kissed each other three times in succession, gently, with only a breath of sound. “I’m going now so you can rest,” Jack said. “You behave, no running after good looking doctors.”

Emma closed her eyes and shook her head, smiling again at her Jack. “You can always make me laugh Jack, even when I don’t think it’s in me,” she said.

Emma came back to the nursing home a few days later, back to room 242, back to Jack, but with a new diagnosis of bone cancer. Surgery to repair the hip was unsuccessful. Morphine kept her comfortable. She slept most of the time with Jack by her side, holding her hand. His worry was etched in the lines on his forehead. Emma awakened sometimes when he kissed her forehead. She reassured him with her smile.

Emma had no appetite and her disinterest in food carried over to Jack. Staff members encouraged him, telling him he needed to keep his strength up for Emma. That afternoon, Jack finally accepted a bowl of his favorite soup. He bowed his head over the bowl and sent up a prayer for his Emma.

As he brought the spoon to his mouth, soup spilled onto the front of his starched white shirt. He looked down at the stain, and frowned. As he unbuttoned his shirt, his hands began to shake and tears welled in his eyes. He finished stripping the shirt off and wiped his eyes with it, then threw it to the floor. He wheeled to the closet, pulled out a fresh one, struggled into it, and fastened the buttons. He pushed the wheeled table with the bowl of soup on it out to the hallway and closed the door.

Jack hadn’t taken his colored pencils out since Emma fell. His worry had filled him, and his inspiration had slipped away.

That evening, Emma opened her eyes when Jack leaned in to kiss her.

She lifted her hand to his cheek with effort. “You need a shave handsome,” she whispered, smiling.

Jack reached up and put his hand over hers, pulled her palm to his mouth and kissed it. They held each other’s gaze until Emma’s eyes closed.

A little while later, he wheeled over to the night stand and gathered his sketchpad. Going back over to Emma’s bedside, he took out his pencil and began drawing her still, perfect form.

The Lingering of a Fragrance

January 29, 2012

Catherine attracted men, drew them to her like the latest model sports car, with her classic good looks, smooth lines, glossy curves, supple skin, and a powerful engine. Her scent was not that of new car though, it was a subtle hint of France that came from a cut glass atomizer. Her fragrance was only a small part of her charm. She spent a lifetime honing her skill and even with advanced dementia, she practiced her craft with precision and a depth of proficiency that was buried so deep in her psyche that it survived the disorientation.

She mesmerized.  I watched her sometimes as she cocked her head to one side, and smiled at her catch, a male visitor or a student, never another resident of the nursing home.  She gained his attention with a lipstick framed smile and then pointed at him with a manicured finger whose nail was the same hue as her lips. She’d turn her hand over and beckon with that index finger in a come-hither crook. It never failed, never. The gentleman in question, magnetized by her magic, sauntered over to her wheelchair, bowed down to her, grasping that dainty hand in his and asked her what she needed.  She tittered, pulling her free hand to her mouth and lowered her eyes only to peer out at the man from under her lashes.  Sometimes a lost look of confusion brought him to her; sometimes it seemed nothing at all drew him near.

At eighty she maintained a relationship with a man on the outside. He was ten years her senior and drove twenty miles to visit her twice a week. He carried a wicker basket covered in a linen cloth in one hand, and a cane in the other. He dressed in tweed jackets, sported a silk tie and a pencil thin white moustache.  Catherine’s face broke into brilliance when she saw him. She’d lift her hand to her hair, as if to put stray pieces back into place, turn her face up to him, purse her lips and wait for him to bend down to the wheelchair and kiss her. “I’ve been waiting,” she’d say.

He’d locate a quiet corner for two. The cream colored linen cloth covered the top of a small institutional table. Crystal candlesticks, English china plates with pastoral scenes, sterling flatware, and cloth napkins graced a table in accordance with Catherine’s station, and for her pleasure. Her ease was the sound of her sigh as she spread the napkin in her lap.  The two of them conversed in quiet tones. At times the baritone of his laughter mixed with the lilt of hers and heads turned.

Years before, she had married a shipping magnate, and although she’d been divorced from that husband for years, and remarried several times, she kept his last name, not so much because she loved him, but because the prestige of his moniker served her well in her independent life as a graphic artist, writer, and world traveler. She grew up in small-town Ohio, not well-to-do,  but through her own ingenuity and tenacity, she  built a life and a name for herself.

I met her when she arrived at the nursing home, the angriest person I’d ever seen.

“Take your hands off me,” she hissed at the young nurse who’d come to show her to her room. Catherine jerked her elbow away from the smiling caregiver.  “I’m perfectly capable of walking independently.” She’d gathered the front panels of  her coat closer to her, adjusted the purse on her arm, lifted her chin, set her mouth in a straight line, and teetered on her heels down the hallway. No matter the approach from staff members, she maintained the upper hand, not letting them care for her without suffering the consequences of her forced immodesty.

Some caregivers sneered at her elevated sense of self, others smiled in admiration at her resolve.

She was a little over five feet tall, thin, with white hair, cut in a stylish bob. Her lipstick, eyeliner and rouge were impeccably applied. She didn’t leave her room without a glance in the mirror, a hand to her hair, or an adjustment to her silk scarf.  The memory of her appearance hadn’t escaped her, nor had her sense of style, a classic elegance, everyone admired. A mink stole hung in her closet; earrings, necklaces and rings vied for attention in her jewelry box and silk stockings shared a drawer with lacy under-things. She was not too old for romance.

In the end, her words lost all coherence, but her gestures and facial expressions maintained their meaning and charm. Catherine died Tuesday.

Her estranged son wanted none of her belongings. Staff members sat on Catherine’s bed, surrounded by her beautiful things. They held small scraps of fabric that had touched Catherine and cried. I couldn’t go into her room. It was too hard.  I’d remember our chats together over cups of tea and be happy for the memory.

That evening, when I left work, I found Catherine’s small pine lingerie chest beside the dumpster. It was falling to pieces, not much more than a pile of sticks and a few drawers. I couldn’t leave it there for the trash man to pick up.

I stacked the pieces in my car and carried them home.

Bruce met me at the garage and peered into the back of the car. “What have you brought home now?” He asked.

“I was hoping you and I could piece it back together.” I said.

He sighed as he’s done before when I’ve tried to hold onto a memory. He didn’t know Catherine, but he helped me unload the chest and we spent the evening interconnecting the parts, gluing the sections together, clamping and reinforcing that which had come undone.

I was wiping off the top with a soft rag when Bruce picked up one of the drawers to slide back into its place. He stopped and drew the rectangular box shape to his face. He closed his eyes and breathed in. “Perfume,” he said, looking at me.

“Catherine,” I answered.

The Parking Lot

February 13, 2010

The woman is running across the parking lot toward me.  I am standing there with the Administrator of the nursing home discussing some spring landscaping possibilities with a month’s worth of snow piled around us. The woman looks harried, her gray hair blowing back from her face. She is past middle age—and she’s at full sprint.

“You work here don’t you?” she asks as she runs to within inches of my face.

“Yes I do,” I respond. “Are you alright?”

“This parking lot is atrocious, simply awful. I am going to call your company. There’s just no excuse for it,” she says, her breath rasping from her. I look at her with confusion.

“They called me,” she says. “They called me to tell me that my father is dying. There’s not one damned parking spot in this lot. Who the hell plows here? It’s a travesty. I’m calling your company to report this. I had to park out on the street in front of that white house.  Do you think they’ll tow my car?”

“No,” I answer, “it’ll be OK there. It’s not a problem. They won’t tow it. If you’d like to leave me your keys, though, I can move it for you and find a space in the parking lot.”

“No, that’s alright, but if you can put a note on it for me, I would appreciate it,” she says as she turns and runs into the building.

“Who is that?” asks the Administrator.

“Mr. Johnson’s daughter,” I reply, my heart kicking up a beat, thinking of her pain.

~~~

It has snowed every weekend since December 19th.  We haven’t had snow like this ever. We broke the record on Tuesday, fifty-nine inches in one winter.  It has snowed so much that the plows can’t keep up with scraping. The city and county have run out of salt and chemicals. Snow shovels can’t be found in stores, and the roads get narrower as the latest white stuff gets pushed up against the last roadside mound. Our community comes together when crisis hits, but it seems we can only take so much.

Robert is our maintenance assistant. He is a farmer first, a maintenance man second. On snowy mornings, the cows get their breakfast before Robert comes to work to help feed old people. He is forty years old, has never married, and has worked at the nursing home since he was sixteen. The care facility is as much a part of him as the farm, but in his life, priorities have four legs and hooves.

“They can’t talk,” he says, “someone has to make sure they are alright. Daddy’s gone and so is Uncle Harold.  That someone is me now.  I’ll be in after I feed.”

Robert scrapes the nursing home driveway.  He uses a 1957 John Deere Tricycle Tractor with a yellow blade attached to the three point hitch. It was his Granddaddy’s tractor and he calls it “Putt-Putt.”  It used to live on the farm, but has traded in hay fields for city life. When he plows, staff and residents come outside just to watch Robert on the tractor. Old men remember.

When snow falls, Robert gets up early, feeds the cows and comes to town to plow the parking lot. It doesn’t matter if it’s a weekday or weekend, if it’s Robert’s day off, or if it’s the fourteenth day in a row that he’s worked. He gets in his truck and comes to the nursing home to plow the parking lot. He has been to work almost every day since December 19. He and Putt Putt have plowed snow and piled it out of the way the best way they can. With that, parking is at a premium.

I go in the nursing home and collect a piece of paper from  the front desk. In bold letters, I write on it:

Owner needed to park car here in an emergency.  If there is a problem, please come to the nursing home and inquire at front desk before towing. Thank you.

After placing the note on the car windshield, I go back inside, and walk downstairs to Mr. Johnson’s room. His daughter is sitting next to the bed with her father’s hand in hers. Her head was bowed. I knock quietly. She looks up, tears running.

“Can I get you something, a cup of coffee?” I offer.

“No, thank you,” she says. “This is so hard.”

“I know,” I offer, but can’t give her any other comfort. I feel helpless.

Turning away, I walk down the hall and see Robert coming toward me.

“Can you believe they’re calling for snow on Monday?” he asks me, smiling,  “like we haven’t had enough.  Where am I gonna put it?”

“I don’t know, Robert,” I say, “we’re running out of room. The parking lot’s full.”