This special couple, one of many, have been part of my life for one reason or another in recent years. Many folks for years or longer than a decade. One lady, only a few minutes, some a few weeks or months. Each have made a lasting impression. God put them in my life for a specific reason. I have been immeasurably blessed by each and every one of them. Maybe one of the reasons is telling you a snippet of their story. Guess I won’t know the reason until I ask Him. Hopefully that will be much, much later.
|Bob and Nancy, hopelessly devoted. Around 2000…|
Bob and Nancy weren’t on my parish visitor’s schedule. Yet. They sat a few pews away during church when I first noticed them. When Nancy spoke, I thought maybe they needed a little help. Because when Nancy spoke up, rather loudly, it was smack dab in the middle of the preacher’s sermon on Sunday morning. And the conversation wasn’t directed at him for something she disagreed with. Nancy just no longer realized she was in a church service and should be quiet. That filter in her brain had been short-circuited or disconnected. Bob quietly hushed her, grabbed her hand and scooted out the door. With as much patience and dignity as he could muster.
They lived pretty close to me, so late one afternoon as I was on my way home, I decided to make a quick stop. Bob answered the door and I explained that I worked for the church and just wanted to introduce myself. He cordially invited me in. Nancy was at the kitchen table. She took one look at me and quickly walked down the hall and into a bedroom. As Bob and I conversed, I could see Nancy occasionally peek her head out, watching me. Thus began our friendship. Nancy did get more comfortable in my presence. Especially if I brought cookies. She’d snack on a half dozen, quietly sitting near Bob. With an ever watchful eye on the stranger in her midst. Bob was lucky if there was one cookie left by the time I was leaving. And he’s the one who really needed them.
One afternoon Bob and I were visiting while Nancy was watching us from the hallway. I noticed a pot holder hanging on their kitchen wall. I had one very similar hanging in mine. I had bought several that I wanted to give as gifts at our church bazaar. Much more than a simple pot holder though. Really more of a intricate mini-quilt. Soon Nancy was sitting next to me, no longer wary. Plus I think she was enjoying the compliments. And Bob’s explanation on what a magnificent seamstress she had been.
|Beautiful, intricate mini-quilt pot holders. Nancy made them by hand…|
Bob was frail physically, but sharp as a tack. Nancy’s body was fit as fiddle, but mentally she was losing ground. They had no children, but so far Bob was attending to most of Nancy’s needs. Usually once a day they went out for their big meal. Some favorite local restaurant. That came to an abrupt halt when Bob fell down the basement stairs, cracking his head a good one. He was in ICU for a couple weeks. Nancy, unable to be on her own, was quickly moved to a local assisted living facility. I visited them both, reporting how Nancy was doing to Bob. He finally recovered, but more frail than ever. No way could he be home on his own, let alone care for Nancy. Bob moved in with Nancy at the care facility. While Nancy had been twitchy in this new, unfamiliar place, she settled down as soon as Bob was near.
Just a couple weeks into his re-hab, Bob seemed to realize that all of Nancy’s needs were now being met. He didn’t have to worry about her living arrangements. She had help with daily grooming, dressing, meals, and showers. More importantly, she was safe. His reason for living, helping Nancy, the love of his life navigate through the last stages of Alzheimer’s was now being managed by others. He just let go. Passed away quietly in his sleep, not long after moving in. Nancy appeared not to have noticed at first. She still ate my cookies when I checked on her every couple day for the first couple weeks after Bob’s death.
|Only 2 pot holders left. Now so stingy, I don’t want to give them away. Greed, it’s ugly…|
Soon it became very apparent that Nancy not only was going downhill quickly, she knew something was off. I always tried to visit folks in long term care facilities on different days and times. Trust me, if you visit someone every Thursday at 2 pm, that resident is going to be “company ready” on that day and time. I really thought of these visits (the folks with serious mental health issues, who could not carry on a normal conversation with you. Or tell you if something was amiss) as well “baby checks.” Remember when you brought your baby to the doctor just for a checkup? Nothing was really wrong. The doc would check the baby’s growth and development. And I mean that in the kindest, most sincere way. To me, my job for these folks was as an advocate. Especially the folks who didn’t have children, or relatives that lived close. My long term goal was to see that their life was comfortable and make sure their needs were being met. That meant surprise visits at 10 am or 4:30. On any day of the week or weekend.
One such surprise visit came about 6 weeks after Bob passed away. I used the security code to get in the building during the late afternoon on a week day. Found Nancy wondering down the hall. Glasses were nowhere to be found. She was barefoot, hair helter-skelter, standing straight up, every which way. Hearing aid was missing. Her partial plate was gone, and remaining teeth looked like they had not been brushed in a couple days. I brought her back to her room, sat her in a chair and gave her a cookie. Stomped off in a royal huff to find someone to ream. I realize that glasses and hearing aids could be misplaced, probably by Nancy. Maybe even her socks and shoes. But she looked like she had just gotten out of bed after spending 3 days being very sick. That certainly wasn’t her fault. Found a nurse in the office and told her, not so nicely, about Nancy’s shabby appearance. These were bare minimum, essential daily grooming needs that were not being met for Nancy. Went back to her room, grabbed another cookie and offered it to Nancy. She looked at me blankly, then just a tiny smile touched her lips. She took the cookie. While she munched, I held her hand and told her about my day. Just the part that happened before I walked in to visit her.
After I got to my car, I called my boss. Number 2 in the line of my 4 not-great-bosses. All of whom were ministers. Don’t get me started. We’ll just continue to call this one Two Fish. If you want or have to catch up on our complicated relationship, you’ll have to read my story on him. Think it was back in October of 2014. Anyway, told him how distraught I was about Nancy’s inadequate care. Part of the problem was lack of family and visitors for her. TF said he’d contact her 2 nieces who both lived about 50 miles away. In TF’s defense, he was the best visitor (and only) of the 4. Went out of his way to keep track of the senior members of the congregation who no longer attended regularly. It was pretty on his priority list too. TF called a couple days later and explained that the 2 nieces had stopped to see Nancy, and had talked to the staff. One had called TF back, and thought Nancy would be better cared for if she were closer to them. They were checking out facilities and would get back to the church when the final decision had been made.
Unfortunately, the move would not be in time. With that tiny glimmer of clarity still poking through for Nancy once in a while, she too gave up. Must have realized that Bob had gone on before and without her. And she was having none of that. Just a few days and couple visits later, I found her in bed. Eyes closed, both hands grasping up in the air for things or people unseen by others. Could not coax her into opening her eyes. Not even for a cookie. Nancy slipped away just shy of 2 months after Bob. Gone were the separations, hospital stays, strange care facilities that would never be home for either one of them. Finally neither one had a worry in the world. As it should be when you got each other’s back and now call heaven home…