On Sundays, I looked forward to visits with Elizabeth at the nursing home. I’d bring her a bagel and talk about our week. I didn’t expect our Sunday visits to ever end. In my head it was common sense that she would die someday, but in my heart, I relished our time together and wanted it to last forever.
We met when I was assigned to her case through the Home Health Care agency two years ago. She lived with her daughter a block down the street. I never had a client live so close! She often teased me because I’d drive to her house. “Did you walk to work today?” she’d ask. I’d make the excuse of having to go places after our visit. But I later confessed it was because I’d leave one minute before I had to be there. We laughed at my unwillingness to leave five minutes earlier to walk instead.
Fifty six years of battling Polio had taken its toll on Elizabeth. Anxiety increased when things weren’t within reach. Her oxygen had to be nearby. Physical therapy was a challenge yet she did it with good spirit. “If I didn’t laugh, I’d cry all the time,” she’d say. With only two functioning muscles, one in her buttock area and the other near her ankle, amazingly, she could get into a wheelchair with only one assist. She held onto my shoulders and pivoted herself into the chair. An abdominal binder wrapped around her tiny waist for support in place of stomach muscles. Insisting on doing what she could, I watched as she wheeled herself into the bathroom with her non-contracted hand and feet shuffling to help. “I’ll brush my teeth while you start breakfast,” she’d say. We quickly got used to our routine and each other.
Though some days were better than others, Elizabeth’s depression was evident. She’d share the sadness of having to live dependent on others and the inability to enjoy what she used to. Her two daughters were born before she was diagnosed at twenty seven. And the loss of her husband less than ten years before our visits left her with a deep void. Part of her felt like a burden to her girls. And her depression slowly increased.
A few months later, Elizabeth was transferred into a nursing home. Her body was weakening. And since she’d have twenty four hour nursing care, my services were no longer needed. But we continued our visits. Instead of her being my client and my being her caregiver, we changed our titles to Friends. When she needed groceries, I’d pick them up if her family couldn’t. I knew what she liked and disliked so why not? When her laundry needed washing, I’d bring it home. What’s one more load? Lengthy conversations about God, suffering, life and heaven gave me a new perspective in many areas. Though Elizabeth didn’t understand her suffering, talking about it seemed to help. I took pleasure in doing for her because she did much more for me.
Instead of complaining when my legs hurt from walking, I’d think of her and be glad I could walk. When I had a cold and blew my nose, I’d remember how Elizabeth depended on somebody to blow hers. Every time I got into the shower, I’d think of my friend, she hadn’t been in one for years. Sponge baths had to do. And leaning her head back over the sink to wash her hair was such a highlight! Washing my hair didn’t excite me the same until I met her. I’d learned to enjoy what I had taken for granted before our meeting. Complain about going to the gym? No way, Elizabeth didn’t get that privilege. “If I ever complain about having to exercise, hit me over the head would yeah?” I’d tease. She’d laugh, “Amen to that!” Her gratitude for my helping out was constant. “I can’t thank you enough,” she’d say every time I left. “That’s what friends do. You’d do the same for me, right?” She laughed, “Don’t be so sure. Some of the things you’ve done for me I don’t think I’d do!” I loved her honesty.
Elizabeth passed away on a Monday afternoon. Our last Sunday visit meant so much. We talked about the smells of donuts being baked at the Cider Mill and chit chatted about the Tigers baseball game. We filled out a birthday card for her daughter. Our time together had gotten less and less over the past few weeks. As a mother and wife, family schedules had changed and my responsibilities were taking more of my time. But she understood. “When will you be here again?” she asked as I was leaving. “It’s hard to get her on the weekdays but I’ll come for sure next Sunday.” She nodded once, lifted her hand and said, “I’m just going to goof off the rest of the day. Love yeah.” “Take care,” I waved from the hall and smiled.
Though I'm grateful Elizabeth's in heaven, free from suffering, I miss her and our Sunday visits. But I try not to miss what she taught me. What may be insignificant to me may be significant to someone else.
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