Monday, March 25, 2013

Life Goes On

  Sometime late Friday night or in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Jerry died. They found him in his recliner, his television on. Jerry was a retired high school principal, and from what I hear, a well-respected educator.
   He was eighty-five and got around in a powered wheelchair. When asked “How are you?” Jerry’s usual answer was, “Pretty good. At least that’s what they tell me.”
    He was in good spirits Wednesday when I sat with him at dinner. As we ate, Roz, who works through an agency, came along to pick up Corrine’s dinner. Corrine has been having trouble with her legs and feet swelling, and the doctor told her to stay in bed.
   “Corrine will be eating down here tomorrow,” Roz said. “The boot the doctor ordered for her came in.”
   “Corrine needs a good boot,” I said.
   “Tom, you’re terrible,” Jerry said.
   “She’d give it right back to me if she were here.”
   “She sure would,” Jerry said, laughing.
   That was the last time I talked to Jerry.
   Jerry was a widower, and his son lives in Louisiana. Al stopped in Sunday to talk about Jerry. “I’ve known him most of my life,” Al said, shaking his head. Al often says he is ready to die, but Jerry’s death seemed to be an uncomfortable reminder of his own mortality.
   Death happens, of course, and it happens frequently at Covenant Woods. Sara, who lived across the hall with her husband Loyd, died two months. She was diabetic, had problems with spasticity, and spent much of her time in a wheelchair, which Loyd pushed. Loyd doesn’t have any apparent physical problems other than slowness brought on by age. But, he was perpetually at sea. One day last summer, he was standing in the hall when I came out of my apartment.
   “I can’t remember,” he said. “Which way is the elevator?”
   There were other occasions, too, when I saw Loyd standing in the hallway obviously confused. He knew where he wanted to go, but wasn’t sure how to get there. When Sara died, I assumed Loyd’s family would move him to the assisted living wing or place him in an Alzheimer unit somewhere. They didn’t. Loyd is still living across the hall. He’s moving a little faster, and acts more alert, more aware. He must miss her terribly, but Sara’s passing seems to have lightened his load.
   Ed, a retired Army colonel, and Lynn, a retired English teacher, didn’t live together, but they were an item. Two octogenarians who walked through the halls holding hands like a couple of high school kids. One evening, Lynn was reading the list of the day’s activities on the dry erase board in the lobby, which was crowded with hungry residents waiting for the dining room to open. Lynn turned and grinned.
   “I erased an apostrophe that didn’t belong there,” she said. “I shouldn’t do things like that, but I can’t help myself.”
   Ed died a few months ago, and Lynn hasn’t been the same. She has moved from independent living into assisted living. When you see her these days, she is almost always accompanied by someone from personal care. Only occasionally does a glimmer of recognition flash across her face.
   Guided by an aide, Lynn came to bingo one day when I was the caller. She just sat with two cards in front of her and never responded to any of the numbers I called.
   “I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do,” she said.
   The aide tried to help her, but Lynn never caught on. She seemed to enjoy being there and among a group of people, although she seldom spoke and remained oblivious to the game. When Ed died, part of Lynn seemed to go with him.

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