Luther and Max- Farewell and Surrender

Sometimes I don't understand how a person can die and the world keeps turning. I understand, I truly do, that there are big losses. There is Orlando. Paris. 9/11. But today there is Luther- a small, wizened man who disappeared from this planet yesterday afternoon without anyone seeming to notice.

Luther's mother and grandmother were moon shiners and didn't seem to notice when he and his brother and sister played hookey beneath the bridge leading into town. They wiled away their days eating pilfered candy bars, roaming the abandoned houses and woods on the edge of their small town, playing hide and seek with the truant officer.

They were in and out of foster homes- a tiny band of loyal misfits- who in the waning days of childhood, turned to alcohol and cigarettes.

Luther married once, he told me. "But we never had sex. She left me after six months for a woman. I ain't had a girlfriend since. I think that's what I need- a woman."

But Luther never found love. Not in human form. The love of Luther's life was his cat, Max. The last time I saw Luther, he'd been placed in a nursing home for rehab after a near-death six week episode in the hospital. He looked at me, a frail memory of his smart-aleck self, and said "I feel sad."

"Why, Luther? Why sad?"
"Because it's all my fault I had to go to the hospital and leave Max. I shouldn't have fallen."

The aide who came Monday morning to help him get ready to go to the senior center found him lying unconscious on his kitchen floor, sick with pneumonia, dehydrated and near death.

"Luther, you didn't fall. You were sick. Don't you remember?"

But he didn't remember and he didn't believe me. He blamed himself for leaving Max alone. I tried to reassure him, told him that the staff at the center and his friends had all seen to Max, for months, and would continue to watch over the little, white spitfire until Luther's return. This encouraged Luther a bit but it was too little, too late.

Luther had one other love. After his stroke, he'd let drinking go but couldn't bring himself to imagine life without his four pack a day cigarette habit. Even after 6 weeks in ICU, Luther returned to cigarettes. Luther never was one for rules.

When the doctor told him he had to have his liquids thickened to prevent another life-threatening bout of pneumonia, Luther chose quality over quantity. When an aide offered to keep Max, Luther let go of the only tether holding him here. A week later, yesterday, he died.

His brother, wheelchair bound and barely able to make himself understood, broke the news. "My brother died," he said, "yesterday." His expression was flat, his tone a matter of fact reporting of the news. "I'm gonna get his house."

I rubbed his shoulder and murmured my numb condolences.

"Will you keep Max, too?" I asked.

He shook his head.

"Oh, that's right," I said. "I forgot, you have a little dog."

Bill shook his head. "No, I had to put him to sleep. He had a bad heart." Bill stared up at me for a moment. "I don't want anything else living. No dogs or cats or anything. I just want to be by myself."

I nodded and rubbed his shoulder again. "I understand," I said.

I found the social worker and the director under the social worker's desk, screwing a new computer attachment into the cheap particleboard. They smiled when I entered the room.

"Did Luther die?" I asked, not so much for confirmation as for a partner in sympathy.

The smile never faltered. "Yes," she said, still turning the screwdriver.

"Yes, he's dead," echoed the director, as he turned back to the task at hand.

"Poor Luther," I said softly to the backs beneath the desk. "I loved him."

It's not that they didn't care for Luther. We all loved Luther. He was funny and teased us mercilessly when he felt good. But in the medical community, where we lose more than we keep, we find our own ways of dealing with grief and goodbyes. They plug in computers and I talk to you.

1 comment:

LBDDiaries said...

And you make me cry. Every single time you write one of your stories - and they are good and you should do a compilation of life them in a book. They are so good and give people a peek into life after life. I wish I'd met Luther!