Lunching With The Ladies

I played tea party today at the nursing home.

I walked in to the dining room and there sat Cookie at a table with another little old lady who wore a pink housedress with a wide pink, Peter Pan collar. Cookie smiles up at me, looks at her companion, then back at me and says, “There you are! I was wondering where you’d got off to!” She turns to her friend and says, “She’s my friend. I just love her!”

Her friend says, “I just loved the salad you made for lunch, dear.”

I smiled and said, “Why, thank you,” because by now I know better than to try and re-orient people to the misery that is the nursing home.

“I can’t remember names,” Cookie says, “but she,” indicating her new buddy, “helps me to eat more.”

Cookie was wearing her smile like Fourth of July bunting. So different from the last few weeks when Cookie’s cried and clung to my hand as if she were drowning and asked, “If I have no memories, am I still here?”

“I’m Helen Dolores,” the pink lady says. She looks like she wishes I were her friend, too, so of course, I am. “What was your name again?”

“Oh, we can’t remember names at all!” Cookie says. “Why I know her as good as I know my own face but I can’t recall her name to save my soul! She just helps me eat more, you know.”

I smile and say of course I know. I take a seat at the table and stare out the wide plate glass window, across the busy street to the parking lot of a medical building and a fancy restaurant.

“What is that place?” they ask, pointing.

“They x-ray you there,” I say, thinking they mean the medical building.

“Funny,” Cookie muses, “I thought that’s where Mike used to eat…Oh well, maybe it was somewhere else.”

“No, no, Cookie, you’re right,” I say. She remembers! Suddenly, it’s there, maybe just for the moment, or the day, but there they are- her precious memories, the son’s name she can never remember. It is all there.

We chat like we are old friends lady-lunching, until a Fed Ex truck pulls up in front of the building.

“Fexux,” Helen says. “Now what in the world is that?”

I tell them it’s a service that brings packages extra fast, overnight, “If it just absolutely, positively has to be there,” I add.

This puzzles my friends. Why on earth would something absolutely, positively have to be anywhere in such a short amount of time? What could possibly be so important?

We watch the man in brown carry a long, slender brown box into the building.

“Well,” says Cookie, turning away to focus back on me, “There you are! This is my friend,” she says, turning to Helen. “She helps me to eat more, or so they say, maybe.”

Helen smiles expectantly.

I grin, settle my elbows down on the table, lay my hands flat on the blue tablecloth before me and begin all over again.

“Well, hello,” I say. “I’m just terrible with names, you know? But you can call me Nancy.”

Cookie smiles. “I can’t remember a name to save my soul but I know your face as well as I know my own.”

And she does, just as I know hers. It is plastered all across my heart.


The Wisest Man in the Universe

My dad is the wisest man in the universe and he's dying. He says the good thing about knowing you're dying is that you get to look back over your life. For us kids, it's meant we have a chance to say goodbye. But as he's the wisest man in the universe, I feel like there's just so much I need to learn from him before he goes. I feel like the remedial student, always trying to "Get it." I never quite "get it," at least not all of it. I could never hope to get "it" all with Dad. There's just too much. He is rich with wisdom.

My brother asked him what was the meaning of life...(I'm telling you, we honestly think he knows!) And Dad said life is all about compassion and learning to be kind. He says we need to learn to be kinder to one another if this planet's going to survive.

In his last homily he said compassion was like amber. Thousands of years ago when a pine tree was wounded it produced sap to cover the wound and thirty to ninety million years later, that sap becomes the gem, amber.

One night, late, I said I didn't know how it was he could spend just a little time with a person and yet seem to know them so completely. "You just seem to 'get' everyone! I wish I knew how to do that!"

He was tucked under his covers, pale and looking very weak, but suddenly he became more animated. "You really want to know?"

I dropped my purse and keys on the floor and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Yeah, Dad, I really want to know."

"Don't listen to the answers people give you, listen to the questions they ask. That's what's important."

He went on to say that peoples' questions indicate what they're interested in. He said, "Think of it like a big tree. The answers are the limbs. The stuff they already have answers to, those are the dead limbs. They know the answers to those questions. But over there, where you see the leaves turning green, that's where they're growing, those are the questions. Always go with the questions."

Dad's world seems to be getting smaller as his life ebbs away. He's lost so much weight. When I hug him, I feel as if my arms are holding fragile bird bones. When he speaks his voice is softer, sometimes only a whisper. And this week, for the first time, he seems a little forgetful or confused.

I read somewhere that American Indians say of those who are dying, "Their spirit is light to the ground."

Last night my friend, Martha, dreamed that she was in a huge colliseum, filled with people. Dad sat next to her wearing his vestments, with a large gold crown on his head. She said another man in white vestments appeared, with a smaller crown, and was almost sheepish as he began to address the crowd, as if he knew he didn't belong where he was.

Martha, noting that Dad's crown was far larger, turned to him.

"Shouldn't you be the one to do this?" she asked Dad.

"Oh, that's all right," Dad answered, "They just don't know I'm here yet."

Oh, but they will.