Week day mornings at 10 AM you can find me listening to the obituaries on the radio. Having spent several years with elderly women from a neighbouring community in a weekly Bible study I worry sometimes that unless I listen to the radio I'll miss hearing of one of them passing on. They were such a joy to spend time with. I was a mother of youngish children at the time and they had much to teach me about life. I remember wondering one day what the magical age was that a parent reached when what their children did didn't faze them or necessarily rule the day. At that point in my parenting I was very much enmeshed with my own children - could not see that there was and needed to be a separating line....the one where I ended and they began. I sat there and wondered how old these women were before they stopped worrying that their children's behaviour was a reflection on them.
Maybe they never did in the first place.
One of my favourite memories of that time was when one of those women shared the story of falling and breaking her arm. She was in her early 80's then and she told us when she fell she lay there and was grateful it wasn't her hip that she hurt. She spent many weeks with her arm in a cast and when it was removed it had that look of skin that hadn't seen daylight in a very long time. She went home, held up her arm to her husband and said in horror, "it looks like the arm of an old woman!"
Perish the thought!
She recently celebrated a birthday in her 90's and is still going strong.
This morning as I listened to the obituaries there was a woman mentioned who died on the weekend in her 99th year. I remember Marie well. We shared a hospital room 10 years ago. She had fallen and broken her hip. I had had a biopsy gone awry and was recuperating from emergency surgery and a blood transfusion. After lunch most days the staff would have her sit in a recliner at the end of her bed. My bed faced hers so this was a good time for us to visit. She was curious about the world around her, she was a great conversationalist and I liked her spunk. We shared a Norwegian heritage and one evening she joined her daughter and friend in singing a Norwegian song. It sounded beautiful.
One afternoon Marie rang the nursing station and asked for help to the bathroom. A nurse came and told her she had to get up and walk to the commode. Marie insisted she couldn't. The nurse got right down into Marie's face and with a harsh tone insisted she would. A physiotherapist stood by and supported the nurse's demand. I listened and watched this power struggle go on for several minutes. As Marie tried to maneuver her walker to the commode she was still insisting she couldn't do it. Her voice had a plaintive wail to it. One step towards the commode and her bowels couldn't wait any longer. The power struggle was over instantly. The staff left the room and called housekeeping to clean up the mess. No apology. No compassion. They just vanished. Today I would have no problem speaking up and defending the powerless. Back then I was still one of them.
That afternoon as Marie sat in her recliner she looked at me and in a small voice told me how humiliated she felt. She was a bit teary and she shrugged her shoulders as if this was her place in life now that she was old. I remember thinking how that nurse would not have spoken to a younger person that way. She wouldn't have got away with it.
I went back and visited Marie the day she was going home. That morning she was up and dressed, a smart jacket and skirt, nylons and makeup. With a sparkle in her eyes and a touch of red lipstick she looked beautiful.
This morning I learned she's gone home now for good.
May she rest in peace.