I usually write every morning from 9 am to 1 pm, but today I had to make a deposit at the bank to cover checks I'd already written this weekend. On the way back from the bank, something pulled me to stop at Mom's residence.
Yesterday the morning caregiver, Elisa, had reported to me a few problems with getting the hairdresser to honor Mom's standing 10 am appointment. Often Mom sits there for an hour waiting for her turn, falling asleep and returning too tired to eat lunch. We don't like her to miss meals because she has been losing weight lately.
I didn't want to take time to stop and speak with the hairdresser but on an impulse decided to do it anyway.
As I entered the building, I ran into the daughter of another resident, Rosemond. She looked tired and was carrying two paper bags full of clothes and empty hangers.
"Hi, Debby--" I began, but then I knew.
She was not only tired but upset. "Oh, no!"
"Yes, last night," she said. "I was hoping to run into you or Deenie."
"I'm so sorry," I said, giving her a hug. "I saw her yesterday, sitting with the others in the circle, looking fine. Let me carry something."
"No, I'm just taking them to the car," she said, but I took one of the bags and walked with her to the elevator, the parking garage, and back to her mother's room on the same floor as my mother.
She cried a little and explained the details, some of which I knew: a fall, visits to the doctor but no x-ray, continued pain while walking, finally an x-ray that disclosed a broken hip, surgery, three weeks in a nursing home, a return to Ocean View, bleeding from a broken blood vessel near the other hip, and then the events of last night.
The nighttime caregivers check on residents every two hours, and at one of the checks, Rosemond was found out of her bed, collapsed in a kneeling position against the bed, lifeless. She had apparently gotten up in the early morning with some problem or discomfort.
The paramedics came, Debby came. The 6 am shift arrived. Rosemond was put back into bed to lie peacefully until the man arrived from the mortuary with the stretcher, but her face was greyish tan instead of pink and white.
I talked to the hairdresser and found Mom in her wheelchair, pushed by Elisa, on her way to the 10 am appointment.
"You're here, Anne!" Mom said. "Stay with me!"
"No, I'm just stopping by to make sure you get your hair appointment on time. I can't stay."
She tried to insist that I stay, but I pushed her into the beauty salon.
On the way out I met Beulah, pushing a food cart into the elevator.
"Oh Beulah," I said. "What a hard job you have! You care for these people and then have to go through this with them."
"Yes," she said, wiping her eyes. "It is hard. I took care of her every day. Yesterday in the evening Betty asked for popcorn, so I thought why not and went down to get her a bag of popcorn. But then I thought the others would want some, so I got three bags and brought them upstairs and put the popcorn in small cups so everyone could have some. I said, 'Now you are at the movies!' and they all sat there watching the film we had put on the television, eating popcorn. Rosemond too."
"I'm so sorry," I said, hugging Beulah. "Rosemond was one of the sweetest ones... not like Julie Simon," I laughed.
"Yes," Beulah said with a knowing look.
Even in dementia, each resident has his or her own personality, and Julie is the drama queen of the floor, often yelling, "Help! Somebody help me! Somebody, anybody! I could be dying, but nobody comes. I just want to die!"
Julie provides comic relief, but thin, fragile Rosemond with the blue eyes and gentle face could only be loved. She often had a lost look but smiled beautifully when greeted. Then as she searched for words to return the greeting, words that did not come, embarrassment and puzzlement would banish the smile.
Arriving to the Reminiscence Neighborhood in August, 2005, she like all new residents was confused about why she had to live here. I overheard her saying to Debbie one day, "But where is Jesus in this?"
The big question: why can't I just die when my life feels over? Or at least live in my own home, as usual, with family providing care? Why do I have to be in this strange place?
No wonder residents puzzle over this question--none of us who are younger can figure out how exactly to balance care of our parents with the demands of work and family while years pass in which our parents can no longer care for themselves.
I went back to Rosemond's room, passing Ilona, the Hungarian caregiver, who also looked careworn this morning. She could only nod and purse her lips, holding back words and tears.
The man from the mortuary arrived. Debby and I stood in another room while he moved the body onto the stretcher.
"She had a deep faith," Debby said. "She was raised in South Dakota with those values: work hard, go to church. Her mother died when she was four years old, so her five older sisters meant so much to her."
The executive director came to show the man with the stretcher to the unused elevator that goes straight to the parking garage without passing through the lobby.
I said goodbye to Debbie and returned to my car, punching the preset channel button on the radio away from news to KUSC.
A piano concerto by Bach was playing--the perfect requiem.
Then the announcer was saying, "Everything Bach wrote, he wrote to the glory of God. Whether it's just a piano concerto or 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring,' you hear the transcendence."
Yes, that's it, I thought: to do all to the glory of God. It's in the Psalms, especially the last ten or so.
I will praise God as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
However long that might be, however lost my mind may be, I added.
Let me be like Rosemond.
Let my smile, my lost look, or just the cells of my body pulse with praise.