As I begin to write this entry, all I can think of is how tickled Mary would be to know I’d thought of her this morning.
I related in an earlier post the sort of summer my family has had. My uncle entered the hospital on June 23 for the first time in his 75 years, and passed away on August 21. My aunt who is in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s, was taken into the Palliative Care ward for this entire time, and is still there.
Over the summer, I’ve come to view Unit 500 as something akin to Purgatory–a holding cell, if you will, for the infirmed, those sick of mind or body, as they wait to make the transition between Independence and Nursing Home. Despite the care of nurses who went out of their way to make both my aunt and her family comfortable, it’s not a very pleasant place to be most of the time. Which brings me to Mary. So I will push the unpleasantness aside for a moment, and tell you about an angel in disguise–my aunt’s roommate.
Mary G. is a woman of tiny stature who has Parkinson’s Disease. Her life stories are etched in the deep lines in her face. Her salt and pepper hair is cut short–boyish, almost–and sticks out at all angles after an afternoon’s nap. She talks to her children when they’re not there, and fusses about them as if they were still babies. She sets imaginary tables with imaginary china and sips imaginary tea.
Mary likes to “eavesdrop” on conversations–it’s hard not to in a small room, after all–and gives her opinion at will. She sometimes swears, and laughs inappropriately, and despite her often far-away look, there’s a twinkle in Mary’s eyes that makes you believe that, at one time, she might have been “quite a character”, as we say.
And when my uncle died, and my aunt finally returned to her room, we found Mary waiting in her chair behind a pulled curtain, with tears streaming down her face. She somehow left Mary’s World, just long enough to express empathy and compassion for my aunt, having lost her own husband just a few years before. We were all very moved.
While I wouldn’t wish Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s on anyone, I sometimes wonder what it’s like to live in Mary’s World–happy, carefree, sipping imaginary tea while shopping for spring dresses in Sears winter catalogue. She has been the very best thing that could have happened to my aunt, forcing her out of her depression and into fits of giggles at some of the things she says. Perhaps Mary’s not aware of what a tonic she really is, but I often wonder if she doesn’t know when to say just the right thing. Angels come in many forms, you know. And there’s definitely something about Mary…