A beautiful woman struggled to breathe, sitting alone with only her memories in the middle of the night, waiting for help. At one time, she could do anything. Born in 1922, she had survived a lot of tough times: the Great Depression, World War II, the civil rights movement, marriage, family and all that goes with it. But not this time. A lifetime of accomplishment, sorrow and triumph came to an end in a nursing home in Providence.
Her family had been involved: her son, his wife, two daughters and their husbands, some grandchildren and a bunch of great grandchildren. They visited, sent cards, picked her up and took her to their homes on special occasions, but they couldn’t always be there. Her blood relatives were scattered all over, asleep in their homes, some nearby, some far. But none of them was there to offer comfort when she needed it most.
A few days later, when the services were through, they converged at her son’s house. They remembered their matriarch, and told stories about what a wonderful woman, wife and mother she was. They had a toast to her memory. Her children felt the greatest sorrow at her passing, her grandchildren a little less, her great-grandchildren little if any. But she will be remembered fondly by all.
We are often told that what matters most of all is the present. The present is all we have. Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow a dream, the present is a gift.
It is good advice, and helps keep things in perspective when the mind starts spinning. The what-ifs, should-have-beens and could-bes take up too much space in a mind that has earned peace.
Love, the greatest gift of all, was with her in her final moments. It came from Senegal, in the form of two lovely ladies who were both in the prime of their lives, with little ones at home and a grand future in America ahead of them. They were the caretakers of the little lady in Room 452 who could not breathe.
They comforted her, and rubbed her back, and reassured her with their beautiful voices, so melodic that they sounded as if they were singing a lullaby when they spoke. Their words could be considered broken English, but the little English they had mastered said more in their inflection and sincerity than all of the words stored in every database since the Internet was invented. While their gift of love might not have transcended the fear and sadness at that moment, it made the experience bearable.
The three were in tears when we rescue workers arrived. The spell was broken, but the love shared between two caretakers and the woman to whom they had grown close over the last two years lingered. The ladies reluctantly stood back, letting “the experts” take over. We administered more oxygen, and got the bag valve mask ready, and lifted her from her seat, and put her on the stretcher, stuck her with needles, and said words they did not understand, harsh words such as, “she’s going to code,” and “I need two for CPR.”
The rescue workers and their patient left quickly. The memory of their friend stayed with the women from Senegal. Eventually her things were taken, but her essence remained.
They still think of her often, and as each new shift begins, they say a prayer in her memory. When a new lady moved into the room, they greeted her warmly, and so began another love story.
The little old lady in Room 452 ended her days with people who loved her as much as her family, and maybe a little more.
The present truly is a gift.