Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The blessing

The weather was not cooperating. It was rainy and dreary and windy when we wheeled Mom from the nursing home and edged her into the front seat of our car for the trip to another nursing home, this one back home. She'd been outside only once in a year or more, and that was the day she'd come to the facility we were leaving.

Her room had been very small, but the staff was sweet, and she had a roommate, a woman who'd set up a home in that 12 x 12 space--moved in her own easy chair and hung the walls with family pictures--weddings, babies, clippings of kids and grandkids who'd made the news. A homemade flip-up calendar stood on a dresser--the date, a picture, and a little penciled-in memory on each laminated card. Yesterday's featured a cat and remembered them in the barn. The woman was loved.

It took three of us to wheel Mom out of that room and get her into the car. To say she's not strong is to overstate--she's been in hospice care for two years, going on three. I pushed her slowly because dizziness is a constant. She doesn't see well, nor hear. There have been times in the last two weeks when to be awakened by a middle-of-the-night telephone call would not have been surprising, nor, really, sad.

When we came to the outside door, her roommate walked over and took Mom's hand. I don't know whether Mom would have known who it was if we hadn't told her.

Roommate is an odd word here. I've been a college teacher my entire working life. "Roommate" doesn't seem to apply to nursing home residents, but that's what they're called, two old people in the same room for the last semester.

"Well," her roommate said, "you're leaving, huh?--on your way?" When there's not much to say, we all fill in by tossing in what's perfectly obvious.

Mom tried to raise her head.

"Well, you've been a good roommate," she said, and then, "I hope you have a good. . ."

And then there were no words. She didn't break down or reach for a Kleenex; she simply didn't know how to finish that sentence--what, really, to wish for. The woman was a blessing for the two weeks Mom was there. More than once, when Mom needed help, she was the first responder. But there at the door, this loving woman simply didn't know what to say.

What do you wish the dying? In all of us, the drive to live is instinctive. It's almost impossible to wish death on anyone, and it takes elaborate art to tiptoe around it. I don't think right then she could have come up with something like "a peaceful transition into eternity." So there she stood, smiling, no good words to finish her best wishes.

That sweet old woman's sudden silence was, to me, a blessing for which I'm thankful this morning, because most of the time I don't know what to say either. Most of the time, I'm just as wordless when it comes to best wishes. That she would be too, made me feel less tongue-tied, less alone.

Amazingly, Mom talked often during the long ride home. She's doing well.

This is what we know: despite the rain and pounding wind, despite a new roommate and a new facility, at least Mom is home. Sort of.

Still, there are no words.

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