I stand by Jersey Girl, who sits next to Muffin and across from Jane at their starched, white linen lunch table. Jane who tried to "murder her" last week, now sits like Queen Elizabeth, perfectly coiffed and prim in her demeanor. We had heard from staff of the sundown experience that routinely attacks the soul. Confusion and fear can set in as the sun is shadowed. One grab to the collar had set Jersey Girl straight as to who was in charge of the play yard.
All seemed to be forgiven or forgotten and lunch would be served no matter. Muffin, a spry and bubbly ninety seven had stolen a kiss from the hubs last week and after asking for pics of our kids, had commented how kind the sons eyes appeared. She looked at me and asked if he might be willing to give a peck on the cheek. I suggested she give it a go.
I spotted Bobby across the room. A neatly dressed, big man with clear eyes. I had inquired of him, though we had not met. I knew he had lost his wife a year ago and since lost his joy. He pointed to my shirt and I took it as an invite. I shook his hand and introduced myself. I explained the shirt. Wake. Pray. Slay. He commented, "Well, that's one way to do it." I liked him immediately and asked if I could join his table.
Roger who looked not more than sixty sat across from Bobby. I sat in between. They inquired as to who I was visiting. I motioned to Jersey Girl and Roger said, " She is the one who went Awol last Saturday." I asked what he saw, heard, remembered. It caused quite the stir it seems. We heard of it an hour later, after she had been rescued, from a strangers porch, after crossing traffic in search of her dead brothers house in New Jersey. She had been placed in Memory Care, where they lock the doors and there are no linen table clothes or glasses with napkins tucked neatly inside.
Sunday I ask for a napkin and knife as Jersey Girl dabs each side of her mouth after each delicate bite. Those around her sit slumped in chairs, food cooling on plates. She is mostly unaware but tells us she was a bad girl. She didn't know she couldn't leave, and then she giggles a little that the police were almost called to look for "little old me."
The hubs looks like a caged animal as she speaks. He paces a bit, wanting to ask her what she was thinking?! He is angry at this situation we find ourselves in. He is angry when adults do stupid things and he is left with the mess. He waits. He is calm. He sets up a meeting for Monday to discuss the future of his mother.
I ask questions, comment that behind this locked door is a depressing nursing home that we did not sign up for. The aid is gentle and understanding. She remarks how kind and gentle Jersey Girl is. Hubs is looking at me, like... stop. You are talking to the wrong person. I know this. I am processing.
Monday morning we pray, for grace. Hubs talks to the nurse who feels strongly that Jersey Girl will not entertain this idea again. She was remorseful and promises to stay put. We do not have to speak one word in defense of her. She is forgiven and grace is extended. Oh, how beautiful a day can be...
My thoughts and eyes come back to Bobby and Roger at the table. Bobby tells me he was a manager of Nashville Post Offices, never a postal carrier he makes clear. I tell him we raised our family in Champaign, Illinois. He responds that he graduated from the University of Illinois. If I had a nickel for every time a stranger told me they went to the U of I I'd have a buck seventy five. He had been a weatherman at Chanute Air Force Base down the road from Champaign after graduation. I felt glad knowing we had experienced the fireflies, cornfields and sweetness of that prairie town, which held one of our best universities.
The husband spotted me and I introduced him to my new friends. The subject of cards came up and Bobby mentioned playing pinochle at Chanute years ago and getting his clock cleaned. Hubs mentioned it was his favorite game and he would bring a deck some evening. Bobby said only if a refresher course was involved. Hubs agreed and we say our goodbyes.
We stop at the table of Jersey Girl, Muffin and Jane. They are pushing food around on their plates, chatting quietly. We say good bye and remind them to enjoy the courtyard instead of the front porch. It seems it is not a law in Tennessee to alarm the doors of assisted living and though the staff have requested this, Corporate does not see the need. A financial decision no doubt.
Hubs and I walk outside into the sunshine, where I take his hand. Grateful to have him by my side, we have known so much time apart and if ever there is a moment of clarity, it is here and now. This place that holds the hearts of men and women who have loved well, fought wars, raised families, buried loved ones, lost so much... and each day are given another breath to be loved and known, yet many times are ignored... I am grateful to see them and hear them.