Friday, August 5, 2011

a hug

I sat conversing with June. An 84 year old Kentuky native, who used to work for the FBI. With Alzeimer's at  her side, she repeats the stories about working during Hoover's presidency, and meeting her husband at a dance that cost a nickel to get into, more than a dozen times with the same enthusiasm.

As I listened to her another resident was brought to the June's usual sitting area in front of the ignored TV. Her feet were bare, like mine, touching the floor from between the pedals of her wheelchair. I looked up to her and smiled, she moaned. I went closer, kneeling at her feet and listened. "Help me," she whispered, "help me." She extended her hand. I got up on my feet and leaned towards her and her seemingly feeble arm wrapped around me with tremendous strength. I leaned closer feeling her cheek rest on mine. My arm caressed her grey, soft hair as I listened to her struggling breath, feeling that her time was near, I felt her hand in my hair mimicking my motions, then finding my clip. I smiled.

A nursing assistant passed by warning me, "She may not let go." I stayed. Another nursing assistant walked by a few minutes later asking me if I wanted her to pry me away from the embrace. I gratefully declined with my eyes. What she didn't know was that I needed the hug as much as she did, she was giving me life and strength while I did the same for her. In the meantime another resident, Lily, soon to become my friend, was wheeled next to us. "Well, isn't that nice. We all need a hug once in a while." I responded, "They're good for our health." "Better than all the pills they give us," she replied. "I believe she knows." Pretty soon a third nurse came and said it was time to take her back to her room. I placed my forehead on hers and looked into her tired eyes. There was the mucus that accumulates in the eyes of those dying. She held on to my head and back. As we parted I kissed her hand and felt her, thanking her for helping me.

A week later Eileen died, she would have been 103 in October. There was wisdom in her dying, a wisdom I hope to learn in my living: to take off uncomfortable shoes, ask for help, and hold on to a hug for as long as needed, intuitively knowing what will bring peace.

With you, and Eileen,