Thursday, March 20, 2008

Water for Elephants

A friend, Anna, and I were discussing the book Water for Elephants last night. It is funny how our minds are attracted to different aspects of the book. She was intrigued by the descriptive explanations of how the circus was run and how things are so different today. While I was drawn to the elderly version of himself, in the nursing home and it kept bringing me back to my younger days when I worked as a CNA at a nursing home, working my way through college, one of a couple of jobs that provided the much needed money for my nursing career, lasting until I was blessed children.

It reminded me specifically of one woman I cared for in the nursing home, and honestly I can't remember her name today. She was a petite woman, very thin. With the most beautiful silver hair that hung like silk to her shoulders. I worked weekends and usually was assigned to her section. She did not have anyone come to visit her and she did not talk, and could not do but the most basic of care for herself. She sat most days and cried. I did not know anything about her past but wondered what wonderful life she must have lived, looking at her silk clothes hanging in the closet. A reminder of what the nursing home laundry does to clothing, yuck. They obviously were beautiful in their day. She had bottles of perfume that must have been mailed to her by friends or family. They just seemed to appear, but no documentation anywhere of any visits. She had jewelry and powders and make up.

It was her day to have a shower on Saturdays so I would always take her to the shower, assist when she needed it, then take a little extra time to put her hair in soft rollers, put her make up on her and her perfume, dress her in nice clothes. And by the end of my day her hair would be dry and I would brush out the beautiful curls. So lovely. I never knew if she appreciated it, or not, or even knew what was going on at all. I would make up stories in my mind that she was an eccentric, wealthy woman who traveled around the world collecting wonderful treasurers to remind her of her travels.

Of course in the last years she was in a small nursing home, in a small town, unable to communicate, unable to care for herself, and alone. That memory stuck with me always and as I worked as a nurse in other capacities and hospitals all over the county I would always remember that woman and how I really believed that no one should die alone. With the different jobs I have had, working with newborns in the NICU to the elderly with terminal illnesses, I would always stay by their side in their dying moments if no family was there, cause no one should die alone. I know it sounds morbid, but just to have someone there in those last breaths to acknowledge that these people were here, are valued, and made a difference to someone, I felt was important. Hold a hand, provide comfort.

Having had loved ones of my own die, I know that death is very real, and when I pass a cemetery with a freshly dug mound of earth, or read an obituary, I always wonder who they left behind, who is grieving for them, and say a brief prayer and thank the creator that this person had graced the earth with his presence. And I think back to my days in the nursing home. Wonderful people, no past that they could speak of. And know that someday, someone will be holding my hand, and thanking the creator for my presence here on this earth.

OK more than any of you wanted to know I am sure. And it was more about my feelings of death than it was about the book, but the book reminded me, once again, of these feelings, and memories.

1 comment:

Schuyler said...

Every where we've lived in the UK has had a cemetery on our dog walk circuits. The one in Sedgefield hadn't been used in 80 years, although there was a modern one on the alternate dog circuit. In the old cemetery there were lots of children and Linnaea would go around with me and have me tell her how old everyone was when they died. I found myself always making up stories about who the person was, or people were on shared headstones.

In East Bilney, our last village, there was a much smaller cemetery that is still in use. Every so often a new mound would be there. Pickle and, clearly, other dogs before him found these mounds good places to mark. It felt sweet to me, this little cemetery still in use. It reminded me of my ancestors' plot in rural Nebraska somewhere and how much I always thought that would be the best place to lie. Or maybe next to Murvale, my dad's adopted grandmother's baby who died of diptheria (maybe) and whose last words were "Oh, mamma, the water is so cold and so deep" which left his mother certain that there was a body of water that you passed over on the way to the afterlife.

I have yet to find the cemetery in our newest village. But I am sure there must be one down some lane or another. Probably next to the church that towers over the two-story houses that make up the landscape.

Thank you for your story.