Edith Godwin was the most difficult person I will ever have to love... and solely responsible for etching in me the most inhuman level of patience imaginable. I stayed with her for almost four years, living in the “servant’s quarters” of her turn of the century Southern mansion, and working as her caretaker. During my last year with Edith she was 92 years old, and suffered from a variety of ailments that included severe rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, the onset of dementia, and a myriad of psychiatric mood disorders to include obsessive compulsion, narcissistic personality, and generalized anxiety. On a good day, she was hateful, vindictive, malicious, and miserly. On a bad day... well, let’s just say that at times I was convinced she was possessed by Satan himself.
I worked for Edith’s children, who, not surprisingly, were willing to fork out a shocking amount of money to hire a caretaker on which they could dump their diabolical mother year-round. At first, I was enticed by the money, but half-way in to the first week on the job I was ready to run screaming to the nearest airport and buy the first ticket to far, far away. I’m still shocked and amazed that I survived as long as I did.
Anyway, Edith was certainly a tough pill to swallow. About a year in to my time with her, I began to settle in to a routine and I was convinced that Edith had begun to accept me, or dare I say even like me. I made this assumption based on the fact that her temper tantrums had declined slightly, and she didn’t try to slap me when I came near. One day, two hours in to a reading session, she interrupted my methodic droning by bluntly saying, “You’re stupid!”
My eyes shot up from the pages of Pride and Prejudice, my brow furrowed in bewilderment. “Excuse me?”
“You’re stupid!” She exclaimed, louder this time.
“No... I’m not stupid.” I replied slowly. My eyes watched hers for a moment, which were glistening with tears. This was not unusual for Edith, who would often cry when she was overcome with emotion of any kind. I decided to return to my reading, hoping the outburst was over, but halfway in to my second sentence Edith piped up again, “You’re stupid! I hate you!”
This angered me, and I searched for the right words to put her in her place. Before I could come up with a reply, Edith’s voice, shaking with emotion, snarled, “You’re trying to steal my money... I know you want me dead!”
“E-Edith,” I stammered, “Why would you say something like that? I’m not stupid, that’s a very hurtful thing to say. And I don’t want your money, or want you dead. I’m here to take care of you, not hurt you.”
Edith was now sobbing softly, and I spent the next hour trying to comfort her while all my attempts were met with the weak rebuttal that she didn’t need me, and that she could take care of herself. By the end of the afternoon I had been insulted immeasurably, and accused of a variety of heinous offenses such as theft, harlotry, and conspiracy to murder. Ultimately, I was defeated.
Not every day with Edith was as bad as that one. Some days were quiet, but others were battles I rarely ever won. As months with Edith passed by, I learned more and more about her, about why she was the way she was, and that she had suffered. Edith was a classic example that money does not buy happiness. I learned to love and care for Edith, even if she would never love me back, and I learned incredible, unwavering empathy for humankind in general. I’m certainly not perfect, but with this empathy came a kind of patience I didn’t know I possessed.
I think Edith knew when her time was up. She fought it so long, struggling to stay independent, to need no one even though she so badly did. The night before she died I tucked Edith in to her bed like I always did, her frail body barely an outline beneath her heavy bedspread. “Goodnight Edith.” I said, before switching off the lights and beginning to close her chamber door.
Before the door met the frame I heard a quiet voice from inside murmur, “Grace? I forgot to tell you... I love you.”
I smiled. “I love you too, Edith.”
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