Tuesdays at the Nursing Home- Between and Beyond

This morning a patient I'd been seeing for the past 15 or so years didn't show up for his appointment. I can only remember one other time when he hadn't shown and it was within the past few months. He'd been struggling with poor health for several years, so I wondered if he was sick again and had forgotten.  After 15 years, you tend to know someone fairly well, especially in my business, so I just knew something was wrong. I remembered how frail he'd seemed in our last session and how I'd thought of the Indian saying about fragile people's souls being light to the ground.

I didn't want to bother him if he was sick, so I sent a brief text asking if he'd forgotten me.  When his daughter from South Carolina called back a few hours later, sounding like she had a cold and asking me to call her as soon as possible, I just knew.

Tom didn't believe in God. Didn't believe in an afterlife. "When you die, that's it, Nance. You're just dust." He said this when his father died, said his father believed the same thing. Yet a few months later, when he'd gone out for a pre-dawn walk, he'd seen his father standing at the end of the walk. "Maybe it was just a guy who looked a lot like him." But the man vanished as Tom approached and while he wouldn't admit he'd seen his father, I could tell he'd wondered.

Tom was hovering between here and there his daughter said. She said they didn't know why he was dying, only that he was.  The doctors couldn't understand what was causing him not to respond to their treatment or what had caused such a buildup of fluid. "But they know he won't come back," she said. "He's going."

She sounded so matter of fact, so composed and I listened, remembering the trials and tribulations of her adolescence, how aggravated and frightened he'd been and how proud he'd been of the woman she'd become. I felt oddly detached, as calm and removed as the voice on the other end of the phone, as if none of this were truly real and happening.

I told Tom's daughter I'd come to the hospital as soon as I could, by six at the latest. Then I hung up and returned to listening to a book by the Long Island Medium- not because I'm a fan but because I wanted to hear what a woman from Long Island who channeled dead people, sometimes in Bath and Body Works store or in Nordstroms sounded like. I thought I could use a character like her in a story...because that's just what writer's do- we steal people.

The Medium talked about how people sometimes send symbols or appear as a symbol. She told a story about a cardinal appearing to a woman who'd lost her husband.  And while I may believe this is possible or even true, something about her brash, confident manner was off-putting. Like she knew for a dead certain fact what happened and how everything worked on the other side. Like Marissa Tomei in "My Cousin Vinny," only without as much heart.

At 4:30 I saw my last patient at the house and as we spoke, Tom died.

At 5:30, as she was leaving, the woman stopped on the porch and pointed to a corner of the screen. "Oh look," she said. "There's a bird trapped on your porch. How'd he get in here?" She looked around. "The door was closed and there aren't any holes anywhere. That's weird." She shrugged. "Oh, well. See you next week."

I propped the screen door open, closed the door into the house and gently shooed the little bird out and on its way.

"There you go, Birdie," I said, watching him soar off toward the trees. "Fly on home."


LBDDiaries said...

Phew. Powerful. My house used to be behind my parents, different street. There was a hawk that moved into a tree in my mom's yard after my dad died. Screeched, raised babies, never left. Mom died 3.5 years later. As I was dealing with this, I looked in the back yard. The hawk was sitting on my clothesline. I grabbed the camera to prove to myself it was real. It stayed all day, then flew away and never returned, not to my yard or hers. This reminded me of that.

Nancy said...

Wow! You hear about these things all the time but until they happen to you, they're easy to dismiss. Thanks for sharing this.