She was destined to remain a vivid memory for many reasons, but one memory was etched on my mind with indelible ink.
Each line on her face exemplified a challenge met and dealt with during her 86 years, like rivulets in a dry stream bed, the substance creating them gone now, their mark still there none-the-less. Obviously, there had been many challenges.
Confined to her wheelchair throne, she now watched seasons roll by, framed by a four-foot by four-foot window, from the safety of her room in the nursing home. She spent much time looking out that window and humming old spirituals to herself. From this throne, she ruled the shrinking boundaries of her world with finesse.
This finesse sometimes made nursing aides cry. She sometimes grumbled at the nurses. Yet, the gentleness of her soul shone through. The overcompensation for losing control of her physical capabilities was understandable.
Warned I’d get a yell after giving her a regular morning injection, I quickly gave her a kiss before a yell could erupt. It became our routine, a shot and a kiss each morning I worked. We grew close.
One morning I came to work to learn this wizened lady had made a request of staff the afternoon before.
“Call my son,” she’d said. “I want him to come see me. I’m going to die tomorrow.”
A simple request with an impact. But who could believe her? Nothing about her had changed, neither physically or mentally as far as staff could see.
The staff had called, but the message had to be routed through the son’s neighbor. And had an urgency been implied? Or the reason?
The afternoon following the request, shortly after the noon meal, this lady I’d grown fond of put her call light on. I walked into the room to find her in her usual place, looking out her window.
“He didn’t come, I wonder why he didn’t come,” she mused. “I want to lie down.”
An after dinner nap wasn’t unusual. But I had a disquieting feeling as I assisted her to lie down. After I returned to my nursing station, I remarked to a co-worker, “I think we better keep an eye on her. I think I’ll go take her blood pressure.” I grabbed the equipment and headed back to the lady’s room.
As I walked into her room, I heard a long, deep breath, a sound between a gasp and a sigh. Her last.
Twenty minutes later, her son arrived.
How had she known?