Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A smile for Maty

My wife, Maty, works as a nursing assistant at a home for Alzheimer's patients. Yesterday, she called me from work, in tears. "My tenant passed," she said. "The woman, she passed."

Maty has been working there long enough (some 3 or 4 months now) to have known tenants that have died. She has become accustomed to coming to work of a morning and finding that certain of the people for whom she has been caring have passed away. So, I was a little taken aback by the strength of Maty's emotions for this particular tenant.

That afternoon, as we drove home, Maty related the story. This woman, whom I shall refer to as Mrs. Cedar, had recently received a visit from her daughter. The daughter had been out of touch with Mrs. Cedar for many years. In fact, she had been unaware that Mrs. Cedar's husband, the woman's father, had passed away several years earlier. The daughter had had to call several nursing homes in the area before finally locating her mother.

The story, as Maty related it to me, was sad and bittersweet. The daughter was glad to see her mother, and Mrs. Cedar was happy to have a visitor, but it is unclear if she was able to grasp that the woman coming to visit her was her own child.

The daughter, seeing that Mrs. Cedar was well-cared-for was effusive in her expressions of gratitude toward Maty and the other staff. "Thank you so much for taking care of my mother," she told them as she left.

Mrs. Cedar began having problems breathing later that same week. When Maty left work on Sunday afternoon, Mrs. Cedar had been diagnosed with pneumonia. The general consensus among the staff was that she would not survive the night. But when Maty returned to work on Monday morning, Mrs. Cedar was still alive, and seemed to have recovered despite all expectations.

Maty went about the routine of caring for her: changing her bedclothes, feeding her, and then showering her. But during the shower, Mrs. Cedar's breathing became labored and rasping. Maty and the other attendant became concerned and they called for the facility nurse to come at once.

At that point, Mrs. Cedar seemed to relax a bit, looked at Maty and her coworker, and smiled. When the nurse arrived, moments later, Mrs. Cedar had passed.

Maty had not had the experience of one of her tenants dying in her arms, and she was profoundly saddened by the experience. Yesterday night, she was not at all her usual cheerful self, and she went to bed very early.

I've been musing on the incident myself, and although I didn't witness the event firsthand, I have applied my own belief to it in such a way as to make it work for me. See what you think:

I believe that sometimes human beings are given the gift of awareness as they stand on that final threshold. And I believe that this is what happened for Mrs. Cedar.

When my own grandfather passed in 1999, also from pneumonia, I believe that he made the conscious decision that his time had come. He had recently been moved into an assisted care home, which he disliked even as he realized that it was necessary. His older sister, toward whom he felt some responsibility, had passed earlier in the year, and the rest of his family was doing relatively well. I believe he decided that he had done all he could do for the people around him and took the opportunity of his pneumonia to exit the stage.

I think Mrs. Cedar had a similar experience. Her long-lost daughter had come back into her life after many years, and at some level, Mrs. Cedar must have known this, despite her Alzheimer's affliction. A loose end in her life had been tied up. Perhaps, in those final moments, as she was being bathed and fed by these kindly women, she saw her opportunity to go. But, perhaps, she didn't want to seem ungrateful; perhaps she wanted to convey her thankfulness to the people that had cared for her in the last stages of her life.

And so, she smiled. A parting smile. A smile for Maty.


Ridwan said...

Thoughtful post brother. May she rest in peace, she was blessed to have Maty there in her last moments.

Peace to you and Maty.


NWJR said...

Very sweet and thoughtful. May everyone around Mrs. Cedar find a measure of peace.

Shus li said...

The greater aspect of life is that of spirit, don't you think? Witnessing the transition of spirit to and from flesh is miraculous...

Beautiful Maty was given the gift of being a midwife for Mrs. Cedar's spirit, I think.

Now that her arms have been the conduit for that energy, watch what might replace that empty space.

Thanks for this story.

Dan Binmore said...

The death of people I have known and tried to help I have found to be much, much harder than I ever expected. My best to Maty, please take some special care to make sure she's OK in the next few months. I know after a few years of this sort of stuff I wasn't OK. I'm glad that you have thought of a way for things to make sense. I, unfortunately, just think that people get sick and die.

Marcella said...

What an endearing story, Dade - thank you - and what a sweet, sweet picture of Maty.  What a dear she is!  Bless her heart.