Last week, I received news that the hospice patient with whom I had spent that last few months visiting and building a relationship, had passed. I met with S for a few hours a week and we spent our time watching Reba, talking about flowers, gardens, and inspecting her own flower collection that I had helped her build. We would care for her flowers together, pruning off the dead leaves, checking the virility of each leaf, watering when necessary.
One of the funniest days I spent with S was a day that S seemed a little restless (she would often get these waves of anxiety and she would start rambling incoherently — sometimes in English and sometimes in other languages). The first time it happened I was scared and tried everything I could to calm her down. “Do you want to watch some tv?” No change. “S. S. Talk to me, tell me what’s going on, what can I do?” Still no change. “How about some music? Do you want to listen to music?” There it is. She calmed down enough to tell me yes. “What kind?” – “something in German,” she said.
What else could I do except look up “German oldies” on Spotify? I picked the first one that seemed kind of close — some guy with an old-time-y picture who kind of reminded me of Frank Sinatra. This had to be what I was looking for. So I pressed play. She loved it. Immediately, she calmed down, and I felt like running a victory lap. I did it! First song finished and she’s calm, and then the next song by the the German Mr. Sinatra comes on and I except to continue to see nothing other than complete bliss in S’s eyes until, thirty seconds into the song, she whips around, looks me in the eyes and says, “Get out.” “What happened?” I asked, “you want me to leave?” “No” she said, “not you, him.” “You don’t like the music?” “No.” she said, “that man needs to watch his mouth.”
I still have no idea what that man said, but S was having none of it. In her own way, she was very proper, and she absolutely loved the color red, especially in her flowers. For the longest time she asked me to get her red tulips. No matter how hard I tried, I could never find them. “They’re a spring flower, S, I don’t know if I’ll be able to find them until then; but I promise I will. I won’t forget.”
In her more lucid moments, S and I would plan her great escape — a mad dash for the Pacific Ocean. She would often ask me to help her get out, help her get home. Even though she didn’t know where home was, she knew she wasn’t there. We planned our trip as if S had all the time in the world. We would take a train West because S said that she had never been on a plane and didn’t intend to start taking them now, and then once we got to California, S wanted to go straight for the Ocean because she couldn’t remember the last time she had been. In my heart, I think S knew that this was only a dream — she even called me out once,
“You’re fooling me! I know you’re fooling me. I know you, and I know you’re fooling me.” After a pause she said, “but that’s okay.” So we continued planning.
In the last few weeks of her life, S had started to see and hear people in her room during our visits– visitors? dreams? memories? — some of them she recognized, like her husband who she said was downstairs and was bugging her because she didn’t know what he was doing; and some of them she didn’t. One day, there was a little boy who she said she barely recognized, and another day there was a clown — not a creepy kind, at least not from what S was telling me (she seemed to like them). Not knowing what to do in these moments, I just told S that she was in control. If she wanted them to stay, tell them to stay, and if she wanted them to go, tell them to go — “you’re in control, S. Tell them what you want them to do.”
Two weeks before her death, S told me that she needed to start packing her bags for our trip. She continued to hear voices and see faces in the distant corners of her room; and in the last week of her life, she began to reach out to them in her sleep.
With her passing, S was finally able to shake off the confines of her body and bed that, for too long, served as shackles to her ambition and spirit. She finally got out. Wherever you are, S, thank you. I’ll of course miss you, but I have no doubt in my mind that wherever you are, your next adventure is only beginning; and that you couldn’t be happier for want of setting out onto this next great adventure. Maybe you’ll even stop by the Pacific to dip your toes in the water, just like we planned.
And don’t worry, I still haven’t forgotten about your tulips.
Spring is right around the corner.