Thank you, Richard Bready.
Or to the Devil. Take your pick.
Here is Deanna’s addition to our conversation on the end of life.
Nana has been planning for her death since at least 1989 when her sister Almita passed away. She’s quite matter-of-fact about it most of the time. It’s a simple, “When the Good Lord takes me.”
After Easter dinner Nana asks my mom if she, Nana, had life insurance. Yes, two sets. “Oh. Well, good,” she nods. Nana mentions that she’ll share her burial with her sister, and Mom asks if she wants to visit it again. “No, not right now.”
I lived in Nana’s garden apartment off and on over the years, never noticing her aging up on the first floor. Then I came home from grad school, and suddenly she was walking with a medical cane and holding onto furniture for support. Before moving into assisted living, she was curled up on her red couch, which is older than me, and throwing cushions from it. “I should just throw myself in front of the Ashland Ave bus and be done with it!” Her dementia was progressing. She didn’t sleep through the nights and napped all day. She saw dead family members, and she would hide and ration her medicine. And then there was the day she microwaved a frozen meal for 50 minutes instead of five.
I call her from work. How’s it going? “It’s ok. It’s just lonely. I’m taking piano lessons. But still, it’s lonely here. When I call home, both your parents are working. The days here are so long. But that’s alright.”
Nana’s new home doesn’t smell bad. That may seem silly, but it’s a good way to gauge the level of care at a retirement home. And the caregivers at Sunrise are all very kind. There is even a sweet house dog Malaya. Nana’s around the corner from me, only a few minutes from the rest of the family. She sleeps through the night, she eats three proper meals a day – “They overfeed us!” – and she can’t get at her medicine. I watched her trying to unlock the drawer with her front door key. She also can’t take off for McDonalds like she would when living on her own. One time I searched for her at her usual McDonalds with a picture and asked if they’d seen her. No. But she had been there and was already making her way back home. She loves McDonalds more than microwaved Salisbury steak.
“You’re young, you still have your freedom.” I tell her she’s free and try to change the subject.
“I thank you for calling. It breaks the monotony and the wanting to jump out the window.” But you can’t jump out the window, they don’t open. “No, everything is medically sealed. I just look out the window and see the activity and wish I was walking on the sidewalk. But I’m five stories high looking down.”
I ask if she wants to keep company with other residents. “No. I prefer just myself. That’s alright.
Nana’s been living at Sunrise about a year and half. She made one friend, Iona. But then Iona became a bully over puzzle books. Nana doesn’t suffer bullies. She’s since made friends with Frances. They are mealtime mates and they play bingo after supper. Nana tells of her winnings, paper Sunrise Bucks. “It’s of no use at Target.”
I tell her I’ll take her for a spin around our neighborhood in her wheelchair on Saturday. “I wish I had a little spend money.” I imagine her leafing through a bundle of bingo earnings and tsk’ing, so I suggest a walk by the lake.
She didn’t plan for a retirement home, but she’s worked hard and saved enough to be able to live in a very good one now. Between being abandoned more than once as a child, growing up during the Great Depression, surviving a fire at the age of four, and moving to Chicago in the 1930’s on her own with only $5 in her pocket, I don’t know if she ever really planned for living. She just kept moving. If she did any planning it was for death, which she’s put off for 94 years. Maybe her secret is microwave dinners.
From the inimitable Connie, a memory of Bushman, Mom and Dad on the occasion of their leaving.
I knew something big was up when Uncle Key took me to see my pal Bushman at the Lincoln Park Zoo one Sunday, and the Great Ape did not greet me in the usual way that we looked at each other and talked with our thoughts. He seemed ‘down’ that day.
I had a premonition – the way you do when you know if you try to move that glass of iced coffee over with the soy sauce bottle, it will surely fall over and spill all over the place. And it does, because you did not listen to that voice in your head telling you things.
So, Bushman died the next day. It was the first Big D in my childhood and, coincidentally, the start of sometimes knowing things were going to happen before they actually did.
Both of my parents died just the way they lived.
Dad went out in a flash at 50. Sudden, shocking, without fanfare, he keeled over of a heart attack before work at his usual watering hole surrounded by his union buddies.
I knew something was going to happen because that morning he drove back after leaving for work, stopped at the front porch, got out, patted me on the head and left again. He seemed a little “down” just like Bushman.
Twenty-five years later, Mom slipped away quietly at a northside hospice full of other dying people. Her last words were her usual howlers.
“Well, if I had it to do all over again,” she whispered. As I leaned over to hear her better, she blurted out, “I would have all Danish modern furniture!”
I could not stop laughing.
The doctor who checked her into the place shouted at my mother in pidgin English, “Where YOU born. Where you were when baby?” as he rocked a pretend infant in his arms.
My mom hardly ever missed a chance to meet stupidity with a few choice funny words. She got back at him by shouting, “CAL-I-FORN-I-A” as if he were the one who was deaf and dumb.
The poor guy would not give up. “What happened to your neck, Lily?” (By that time, she was bent over by the cancer which had reached her spine.)
“Well,” she shot back instantly, “I saw a man with a neck like mine in the hall. Maybe I caught it from him.”
Mom was no pushover. She was always able to answer stupid questions with innocent zingers that brought down the house.
I could tell where she was by following the hoops and howls of people laughing their heads off.
She was an unassuming cross between Gracie Allen and Gypsy Rose Lee if you can imagine such a combo.
Wisely ditzy, she gave me the sage motherly advice that still stays in my head: “Connie, it is always better to try…than not to succeed at all.”
No, death does not silence the dead. They keep on telling you things and giving you hints on what’s ahead down the road.