The First Book of the Second Branch of our Be More Better series is being edited!
Our readers asked us for a book of short, true stories beyond those already included
Each story teaches something.
We have not yet decided whether to add a last paragraph about the lesson
to rely on the intelligence of our readers.
There are times, however, when an explanation is of value.
One of the greatest American novels is The Caine Mutiny
Why? well, for very good reason…but most people would never know that reading.
They were told who the hero in the book was, and why.
Our stories are not of this ilk, but some of the stories may have a codasyl, WIP..
We had been visiting the nursing home for a year. She was not with me when my father was first admitted, coming only after the crisis had passed. Dad so enjoyed her sitting beside him on the bed, tiny foot dangling. She carefully kept her warm, soft body small to avoid the life-sustaining tubes plugged into him. Her love supplemented their flow, while staring into his face as if to memorize every line and pore. Of course she did not understand what was wrong with Dad. He slept, often, as the distance between his waking and dream worlds diminished. How do you explain to a three-year-old that his hourglass had cracked and was emptying?
We would visit other patients too. They so appreciated our un-asked-for intrusions – a gentle rap on the jamb – always somewhat late – started the visit. She frantically ran in, a little ball of energy whose feet slip on the hard tile floors as she began to randomly explore – investigating all the corners, peeking under the bed, but always begging for cookies. Graham crackers are her favorite, and I’m hard pressed to keep her from gorging – girls have to watch their figures, after all.
During the many visits, continuing after my father died, I learn the critical importance of companionship – a touch, a word, just simple presence – to those stored away from family, awaiting their future alone, in pain and depressed, or just old. We hear how happy the patients are to see us again. They say they are looking forward to our next visits. They’ve clearly been fooled into thinking I’m a nice guy just because we visited. Perhaps my being a Knight of Columbus adds to the delusion. Or maybe it is strengthened by the belief that they felt better all day after the last visit – a theme carried from room to room.
We take our time on the walk. I am asked to do something that was once easy; when they were children – or played with their own. It was so different before the stroke. You get used to the helping stuff.
She doesn’t notice the smells, though I don’t know how. Entering happily, running about, climbing on the bed, she revives memories – you can see them return so easily to yesterdays. Many had girls, equally boys I suspect, but my ear is prejudiced. They can so quickly go back to that happier time, though some of the memories end with the words “she died before her twelfth birthday.” Past sadness is muted by distance and time; its hard edge softened, the warm glow of the joy lived retained; the visit to those ‘agos preferable to the present’s incontinence. We leave, trailed by stealthily given cellophane bags, each spewing a fountain of cracker crumbs; but also smiles, voiced thanks, and remembered lives.
The nursing home was only two years old, modern in every respect, filled with caring nurses. Sadly, they could not disguise the stark truth that many of the patients were trapped in a medical machine that, too often, could be escaped only by death. In many of the rooms the silent “long term patients” lay with breath shallow, skin waxen, and cheeks hollow. Some of their eyes looked deep into yours; others were focused far away, onto their own private somewhere. Sometimes I am given the gift of seeing the impossible.
The woman was virtually comatose, sitting slumped in her wheelchair. Her arms and head dangled with her blouse unbuttoned. The only reason the woman did not fall to the floor was that there was a seatbelt around her waist. She ran to her before I could react and, thrust her head between the withered breasts. Some long-forgotten reflex was then triggered – evidenced by thin arms cradling a small energetic body for long minutes, before gently allowing her to escape.
In another room, we once found a motionless man, fully-tubed, masked, and alone. We were about to leave the room when his hand circled, enticing her. He petted her and she climbed onto his chest where he delighted with her as if she were his own. He was literally transformed for those minutes. A nurse entered, and insisted I mask; but pointedly ignored their play – and that her face was uncovered, probably spewing germs onto his. Humanity is sometimes found in the smallest of rules-broken.
Another man was in pain. You could hear the sounds of it everywhere on the floor. The noises echoed monotonously, each beginning unintelligibly, but always ending with a vowel – usually an “oh”, but sometimes an “ah”. If it was bad for visitors, it must have been so much worse for the residents, and unthinkable for him. As we draw near his room, the noises grew louder. His daughter was sitting in a corner, unable to help, hoping that her mere presence would give some comfort. We learned that they had a dog, a beagle is named “Cindy”, but of the short breed, not the 19” like mine. Her father lay flat on his back, eyes open, but seeing nothing; gazing inward to his private pain.
She jumps onto the bed and goes nose-to-nose with him. Their open eyes together create a version of the “who-will-blink-first” game. The daughter and I ignore them to talk about our dogs; but after a while what can you say? You pause, and there is silence. Strangely, and it took a while to notice, but we found – that there was silence. Nothing had changed. He had not moved, nor had she touched him, but once again, she had, in some way, been mistaken for an angel. Leaving, we visit our other “friends,” and for the remainder of the hour, silence continues to flow from his room, tangibly emanated, shared throughout the wing, comforting all.
My father died in that same room months ago, and it was with a strange sense of deja vu I again experienced a heard-quiet, pouring forth, redolent of peace. This flow is proof that our visits have a value that we did not bring; but was created – incredible though it is by any who know us – by our simple presence.
As we pass through the front doors, I pat her head, and her tail wags.
“T” visits the nursing home every couple of weeks and still loves graham crackers. The twentieth beagle owned by my father’s neighbor, she accompanied Dad as a gift when he moved in with me after my mother’s passing.
I still miss them both.