15 June, 2004

Marking Time

"What's the last thing you remember?" "My wife." "That's nice..." "Dying."

The staff is unfailingly kind, affectionate, even. The residents need this. The nurses care for the residents gently, each according to need, dressing some, pushing wheelchairs of others, feeding a few, doing absoulutely everything for the particularly needy. Even cleaning staff pause in their scrubbings to adjust the volume of a television, assist with donning shoes, rearrange a sweater or pillows. Anna, Lynn, Denise...I feel badly for not learning all of their names.

Media has pounded the residents with relentless maudlin sentimentality. It's still not over. The ladies- for it is mostly ladies- admire the stalwart widow, and have no notion that they share an affliction with her late husband. It is become the most prevalent topic of conversation; they feel a connection. Traveling backwards in time, they mourn long-dead husbands afresh daily. Their eyes dampen. My grandfather, Marc, gone since 1980, to Grandmother, is recently lost. Una Mae is on the verge of tears most all the time. I wonder how long ago she was widowed, but it's pointless to ask.

I wake Grandmother, to have half an hour with her before leaving. We share coffee. I make jokes for her and her table companions, Miss Lillian and Merylyn. I take the sad bits of the newspaper- most of it- from their hands and read to them a happy story instead.

Squeeze whatever last memories I can from this brief visit, aware that I am saying goodbye. I speak to my mother on my cell phone as I sit in front of the house I remember as Grandmother's. She asks if I'll have time to visit Gran before leaving for the airport.

"I was just there, Mother. I was just there."

I promised myself I'd wait til I got home to cry. It's a promise I do not manage to keep.

Ragged chunks of grey moisture frame a patch of brilliant blue.

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