Sunday, February 24, 2013

starlight and rose petals

In an Alzheimer's unit, Valentine's Day is never quite whole. Half of the lovers are dead, the others don't know it. In total, I had five couples to celebrate -- well, six, but one couple wasn't speaking to each other because she has persistent beliefs about his infidelity and a nasty temper. Who can say what is true? And one couple is just friends, but friends count. When you're ninety, it all counts. 

So we planned a party, a starlight party, with red globe centerpieces, scatttered rose petals and Hershey's kisses from the dollar store. I found plastic champagne flutes for the sparkling cider. The chef made a beautiful dinner: broccoli soup, puff pastry, pork loin, pasta and squash. For dessert, a four layer red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting and strawberries cut so the heart shape was evident. Sweet. 

But here's the thing. (You knew something was coming. You, my faithful readers, you know everything is never really okay in the merry ol' land of Oz.)

So Pansy, she was dying. Not right in the middle of the party or anything, but dying just the same. She'd been trying to make a ladylike exit since the Thursday before, but her daughter, a nice nice woman, unfortunately the tiniest bit impaired by her mother's slight case of OCD. By the time I got her mom, she couldn't remember the O part. Growing up she had polished the bottoms of her child's white shoes every morning with white shoe polish. That kind of OCD. Untreated. Lifelong. So the daughter, having the final word, needed to say some things. Lots of things, for a really long time. So Pansy, captive little blue-tinted lady by this time, stayed to listen long after she was ready to be onto her next thing.

In another room another of my little people had been on his way out, was taken to the hospital for repairs, and was set to return the next day. 

The party was set to begin at 5:00. Dinner time. Everybody was dressed up, spouses wheeling their ways to the table, single long-stemmed red roses given to the wives by the husbands. Oh -- I told one of my guys that his wife was sitting next to him. He said, "Don't threaten me." I told him I had a rose for him to give to her. He asked, "Are there any thorns on it?" Anyway, there we were, all red and pink and romantic. 

Pansy's daughter, who had been calling me all day, asking for guarantees, like families do: "If I wait until 3:00 to come can you guarantee she'll still be alive when I get there?" 

Uh, no. No crystal ball here.

"I see (she lied), well, how far is she since I was there? How's she doing?"

She's doing fine.  

"She's doing FINE??!!?? Oh my God, she's better?"

No. By fine, I mean she's dying just fine. She's coming right along. She's about half as alive as she was the last time you called. She's dying at about exactly the same rate. Slow. (I didn't really say all of that.)  

So the daughter shows up about an hour before dinner and Pansy is still hanging on. and on. and on. I ask her please to sing or talk quietly. This means, if it makes your mother jump, its probably too loud. I whisper these instructions. To make a point. Its hard work dying and one must honor the process. 

 -- Really, if someone you love is dying, or someone you have unfinished business with, suck it up and wait until after they're gone. If you couldn't figure it out while they were alive, don't lay it at their poor little lavender feet at the bitter end. Not fair. 

So finally, we are ready. At 4:45 the food arrives. Drumroll... You know what happens, right?

At 4:45 Pansy dies. ("I think she's gone. Do you think she's gone?") 

At 5:00 we begin to serve dinner. 

At 5:15, Charlie rolls in from the hospital on a stretcher.


Now, there are things that must be done. So, between courses, we do them. Personal things. All the while, having a romantic dinner, and escorting the mortician around the back door, closing the fire doors so we don't have to wheel Pansy's corpse through the rose petals and chocolate truffles. 

Charlie, of course, thinks the party is a welcome home for him. 




asha said...

Sounds like a perfectly lovely day, at least for Pansy and Charlie.

L. said...

delighted to find three whole posts.