I am only here for today, so that she can leave the apartment. She has an appointment with a lawyer, it’s time to talk about next steps for her husband. He has cancer and Alzheimer’s, he’s fallen three times this month alone. “I just don’t have the strength for this part,” she tells me. She’s talking about physical strength, or maybe not.

She’s neat as a pin, buttoned into a crisp blouse and cardigan. She sits, spine straight, hands folded in her lap. She apologizes for the cat, who winds himself in needy figure eights around my ankles, and tells me to make myself comfortable. Her husband will likely sleep the whole time. “He sleeps a lot these days,” she says.

She bustles around his bed, introduces me to him (“Hi, honey”), asks if he needs a drink, re-arranges his pillow.

They live in a retirement community, a building for seniors but without the staff of a care facility. There is a button on the wall above his head, I ask if it’s for emergencies. She shakes her head. “Best to just call my phone,” she says.

While she’s gone, I sit on the couch. The apartment is tiny: one small room that is living area and kitchen combined, an adjacent room that is bedroom and bath. Her husband lies in the type of bed I’ve become familiar with, all metal railings and origami mattress folds. A television blats above his head, he fumbles with the remote and lands on a game show. He snores for a while, then startles the daylights out of me by loudly exclaiming, “OH boy. OH boy.”

“Everything okay? Can I get you anything?” I call, hovering in the doorway.

He smiles at me, blurry and tired. “I’m fine, honey.”

There are no books in the living room, no radio, no TV. It’s quiet in an airless sort of way, like being inside a stoppered bottle. I try to imagine how she spends her time. I can’t shake the image of her sitting in the recliner and absently stroking the cat, then getting back up to check on him. The carpet worn smooth from this singular path.

From the bedroom: “OH boy!”

What I would like is to keep coming back, so that she can leave. Go have lunch with her daughter, maybe, or just sit outside and feel the sun on her face. I tell her that, say she doesn’t even have to call hospice, she can just call me. She’s polite, and thanks me, but I know I won’t hear from her. She just needed to get to this appointment. The rest of the time, she’s doing what she can for him.

I want to wave a magic wand for this couple, fix the financial trap that has left her as sole caregiver, undo the heartbreak and confusion and the need for such steely resolve, breathe some life back into this home. I want assurances, that this will not happen to the people I love, that it will not happen to me. But none of it is within my influence or understanding, and I am only here for today.

Comments

23 Responses to “Hospice files: one visit”

  1. Penne Heede on March 22nd, 2018 12:57 pm

    I am grateful that I found your little corner of the internet years ago. I don’t often comment, but I always appreciate your words. Please send this to The New Yorker or somewhere so that I can tell people I knew about you before they did. IT IS SO GOOD.

  2. Caroline on March 22nd, 2018 1:12 pm

    Your writing is a bright spot in my life. What a gift you have.

  3. Emily on March 22nd, 2018 1:13 pm

    Oh, Linda. This just made me cry. My husband is moving his father into a nursing home for dementia this weekend. I so wish I had a magic wand, too.

  4. Caroline Hansen on March 22nd, 2018 2:18 pm

    I have followed you for YEARS but never felt compelled to leave a comment. This is just beautiful, poignant, and heartbreaking. What a great writer you are – thank you for sharing.

  5. Lynn on March 22nd, 2018 2:54 pm

    I love these stories of yours, you have a beautiful way of writing. Thank you for sharing with us.

  6. sooboo on March 22nd, 2018 2:56 pm

    This made me tear up. I remember my mom asked for a hospice worker to always sit with my dad when we weren’t there so that he wouldn’t die alone. And he didn’t. I hope she takes you up on your kind offer. Often times caretakers suffer health issues from the stress but maybe she just wants to spend every moment that they have left together.

  7. Alison on March 22nd, 2018 2:57 pm

    This is my mother two years ago. So perfectly expressed.

  8. Donna on March 22nd, 2018 3:12 pm

    😢

  9. Pete on March 22nd, 2018 3:13 pm

    Nice post. My dad is probably less than a year away from this. :-(

  10. Milana on March 22nd, 2018 3:14 pm

    This was so amazingly good it took my breath away. Like literally every word is perfection. I so look forward to your posts. You are incredibly talented.

  11. Lindsey on March 22nd, 2018 3:14 pm

    As someone who has experience with Hospice (when my dad was sick) I say THANK YOU. We need people brave enough for the heartache. It’s tough stuff.

  12. Trish on March 22nd, 2018 6:00 pm

    Always beautiful words you have. Hospice nurses and workers are angels on Earth. Thank you for giving your time.

  13. Jen on March 22nd, 2018 11:18 pm

    You have a beautiful soul that comes through in your writing. Every time I read one of your pieces, I pause and think (sometimes at the end, sometimes several times during reading). I have laughed, I have cried, I have wished I could give you a hug or sometimes a high five and a “YES”. I didn’t comment on your “say hi” post the other day. I am commenting on this one to say: if you ever publish a novel please be sure to let us know. I would not want to miss the chance to buy it.

  14. sara on March 23rd, 2018 6:41 am

    You just made me cry at work! Whenever youre feeling down on yourself and thinking about all the ways in which you think that you are lacking, read this post and be reminded that that you are very kind. And that’s something that the world desperately needs.

  15. el-e-e on March 23rd, 2018 8:32 am

    This is so real and so close for a lot of us as our parents start aging. Thanks for sharing. I’m wishing ease for them, too.

  16. Pat on March 23rd, 2018 8:54 am

    This is so beautifully written; just echoing all the other comments above (except for the weird one). You are such a good person; I see a heart of gold shining through in all your posts. I hope you are also starting to love yourself more, you deserve it. What a lovely kind thing you are doing (both the hospice visits AND sharing your talent with us!)
    xo

  17. Kindra Roberts on March 23rd, 2018 9:25 am

    Wow, this brought tears to my eyes. You have such a gift of painting pictures with your words.

  18. Jennifer on March 23rd, 2018 1:08 pm

    Sometimes it so hard when there’s nothing we can really do, and we just have to be. Thanks for reminding me, Linda, that being there is all there is. You are remarkable.

  19. Gigi on March 23rd, 2018 2:16 pm

    I don’t comment often (sorry about that, I’m trying harder) but this was so beautifully written it made me cry. And I shared it on Twitter because everyone needs to see this.

  20. Kim on March 26th, 2018 9:12 am

    Wow Linda. Chilling and stirring and poetic and just oh, so beautifully written. Thank you. Like others, I rarely comment however today I want to let you know how wonderful & meaningful you, your blog, and your writing are to me.

  21. Kelli on March 26th, 2018 11:49 am

    You are a beautiful and gifted writer.

  22. Adrienne on March 27th, 2018 12:29 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever commented on a blog in my life, but this moved me. Beautifully written.

  23. Missy on April 3rd, 2018 9:43 pm

    You have such a gift. These beautiful little pieces hit me straight in the heart. Thank you for sharing your talent and these moments with us. Makes me want to send love out to this nameless woman and to you as well.

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