Small blessings

The entertainer, “John,” didn’t show up at the nursing home on Friday. Westy, the new assistant activities director, was on her own for the first time. She plays a little piano and tried to get the organ going, but didn’t get far. Having brought my fake book and piano glasses, just in case, I jumped on the organ and played. I don’t play the organ either. I just played the lower register and tried to keep my feet off the pedals. Music at Timberwood doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be enthusiastic.

A younger woman, Sherri, who’s Jean’s daughter, joined me, and we sang together. Fred and Jean hung nearby, singing along.

Loy, who is always shouting obscenities, actually said, “Hey, that’s good.” A miracle. Somebody else grumbled, “You can’t sleep around here with all that music.” Oh well.

As we finished, one of the aides asked me to go to Room 104. Mary Lavelle’s daughter wanted to know about my blog, but she didn’t want to leave her mother’s room. Mary was dying. Coming in, I had noticed the furniture moved around. They were planning to move her to a hospital bed. But when I ducked into that darkened room and saw how close to death she was, I doubted Mary would live long enough to change beds.

It was dark and quiet in Room 104, on the other side of the building from where we had been joyously singing old show tunes. Watching Louise hold her mother’s hand, one could see everything in her face: fear, grief at losing her mother, relief that the years of suffering for both of them would soon be over, anger that this had to happen.

Everyone is on the same cycle of life, but it seems accelerated at Timberwood. Poor Viola, whom I wrote about last week, spent a couple days in the hospital. They thought she had a heart attack, but Friday she was back, walking around bent over like the letter R, carrying her purse and her Bible, saying she had to go home. Again.

Fred sat staring into space when I arrived. Slowly, as he recognized me, he smiled, reaching for me, his eyes wet with tears. We hugged. He smelled bad, but I have learned to ignore it.

I took Fred to Sweet Waters Family Restaurant for lunch. He had hash and eggs, I had a BLT and salad. Every bite tasted so crisp and fresh and wonderful to me. I’m appreciating small blessings these days. We splurged on pie: lemon meringue for Fred, peanut butter fudge for me. You don’t get to do that sort of thing at the nursing home. We lingered there a long time.

We didn’t talk much, although he did ask why he had to stay at Timberwood. I reminded him of his Alzheimer’s and his need for more care than I can give. “Oh yes,” he said, sighing. His hands have started to shake more violently, and it’s getting difficult for him to hold a coffee cup or maneuver a fork. I don’t want to think about what will happen next.

Fred has forgotten my name, but he still knows he loves me. We hold hands and hug a lot. We sing along with the radio, and I tell stories to make him laugh. Friday the sun was shining on his bedspread in such a way that we could make shadow puppets, and that made him laugh, too. Laughter, music and touch hold us together. For now.

As I drove away on I-5, I could see the sun coming through a rain cloud and the rays spreading over the fields. Another small blessing.

Author: Sue Fagalde Lick

writer/musician California native, Oregon resident Author of Freelancing for Newspapers, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams, Stories Grandma Never Told, Childless by Marriage, and Up Beaver Creek. Most recently, I have published two poetry chapbooks, Gravel Road Ahead and The Widow at the Piano: Confessions of a Distracted Catholic. I have published hundreds of articles, plus essays, fiction and poetry. I'm also pretty good at singing and playing guitar and piano.

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