by Ladywildalice (Susan Guest)
I had cared for this gentleman for over a year. Such a cantankerous soul, always complaining loudly, cursing everyone and everything. He was terribly hard of hearing at 98 years of age, and blind in one eye. He could stand with assistance, but only briefly, as his scrawny little knobby knees and jutting hips could no longer support even his underweight frame without shaking to the point of collapse. He refused to wear his dentures most days, and stubbornly held out for food that resembled his dietary young adulthood, not the pureed "baby food" he was constantly being fed. It wasn't very unusual for the unfortunate care-giver assigned to Joe to end up wearing more food than one would think possible, even in a nursing home.
Joe was, according to his Driver's License, expired 30 years ago, Mr. Joseph Raleigh Mendelsohn....the 3rd.
I often wondered if his familial predecessors were of the same disposition. I found out, over time and much trial and error, that this man responded best when addressed as Mr. Mendelsohn, and so that is the manner in which I gave him care. I also found if I made things seem like his idea, that went a long way to getting things done. "Good morning Mr. Mendelsohn. I understand from the night nurse that you are wanting your shower now. I'm sorry I wasn't here the minute you asked for it. I hope you will forgive me." BINGO! The response I hoped for came as "Damn right I wanted my shower. Where the Hell were you? Help these days is so shoddy. I want it now, and be quick about it!" This repartee went on, nearly every morning.
I often wondered if, somewhere deep down inside, he was laughing as much as I, that we were both foolishly trying to pull the wool over each others' eyes. And every day, Joe asked for his daughter, Caroline.
"Where is Caroline? Why isn't she here? She's my daughter and she should be here! It's almost time to make lunch, and I have to get to the Club. She's supposed to take me! Where is she? You need to go call her, tell her to come at once!"
It did no good to try to remind Joe that Caroline couldn't come to visit, to make lunch, to drive him to the Club. The Club had closed 20 years ago, and Caroline no longer had a driver's license. You see, Caroline had died fifteen years ago. But those things were things Joe either chose not to remember or had no control of forgetting. Either way, the subject caused him so much distress and frustration, day in and day out, it did no good to try to reorient him. That generally ended up in a battle of wills as to who was telling the truth and who was lying. A battle that I generally lost. And some days, he would relive the last time he had been with his precious daughter Caroline. A day he had insisted she take him home, away from this place filled with strangers and horrible service. His frustration and anger had turned to physical violence as he had
struck Caroline, several times, his cane raining down upon her as she screamed for help. Several caregivers had to restrain Joe as others helped poor Caroline onto a gurney and out of further harm. The trauma of that attack damaged the friable bond between them, and Caroline never visited again.
That was the beginning of the daily demand for her presence. It was the start of the hand-wringing, the distraught rage Joe fought through, side-by-side, with we who cared for him. As the days passed and the years flew, Joe would slip into a tender father, yearning for his daughter, tears springing from his dull, dry eyes. His bulbous nose would get red and his face all splotchy as he wept. Wept in shaking sobs for his "dear, dear Caroline." And he would berate himself for his not telling her often enough how much he loved her. In those very infrequent visits from a Joe most of us could not imagine having ever existed, my heart became heavy and I so wanted to ease his longing for her. But then a curtain would fall and THAT Joe would disappear, shrinking back into the recesses of time, and "our" Joe would pop up in his place, flustered, blustery and rude, and the process would begin again.
Then one day, a week before Joe's 99th birthday, as I entered his room with my usual "Good morning Mr. Mendelsohn", I found Joe in a pile on his bed, unresponsive, his linens soaked with sweat, his face flushed, his skin clammy. Checking
his vital signs I found them very irregular, his breathing labored, his temperature 103degrees. My mind quickly ran through the chart that had been memorized over the years. Age: 98.......Marital Status: Widow.....Emergency Contact: Caroline Mendelsohn, daughter, deceased.....next of kin: Caroline Mendelsohn, daughter, deceased.....Code Status: DNR.........no living relatives. There was no one to call, no one to urge visit, and nothing to do but wait. I notified the physician, and then began the watch. Sitting in Joe's electric recliner, next to the bed, my right hand covering Joe's left, gently patting him, I leaned my head back and closed my eyes, falling into an exhausted sleep. I was suddenly startled awake by Joe, his eyes still closed, he gasped for breath and cried out "Caroline"! Over and over he called her "Caroline. Oh my sweet Caroline? Please let Dad see you, hold you. I need you Caroline. I love you. I love you Caroline, where are you? I'm sorry Caroline, I'm sorry! Please Caroline, please!"
His head rolled back and forth on the pillow, his arms waving around, as if searching for his dear Caroline. He tried to rise up, but could not, his breathing getting more and more strained. I rose from the chair, putting the bed side-rail down to
allow me to sit down on the edge of the mattress. I reached over to try to calm Joe, when suddenly, his eyes opened.
"Oh Caroline, you're here1 Oh thank you, thank you Caroline. Dad is so sorry for being mean to you. I love you so much. Will you forgive your Dad, please dear, please? I need to know you forgive me. I was such an ignorant, foolish b-------. Oh Caroline! Caroline!"
Without thinking or reasoning, I leaned down into his embrace, speaking into his ear so he could hear "Dad, I'm here. It's
okay. I love you, too, Dad. There's nothing to forgive. I'm not leaving Dad. I'm sitting right here with you. You just rest and when you feel a little better, you and I will get in that old green Chevy you like so much, and drive on home. Ok Dad? I love you Dad." and I hugged him. I hugged him like I was hugging my own long deceased father. I hugged him like every orphaned child longs to hold their Dad. I hugged him......hugged him tight, close, firm..........until he slumped in my arms and was gone. Sitting there, looking through my tears at this very old, used up man, who, because of illness, had seemed a monster at times, I saw the heart that had been hidden. And I realized how short life is. How easily we hurt those we love, and how desperate we become to be forgiven and to be held as we pass from this world.
The next day, a new customer filled the bed. She roamed the halls, looking for her lost Cocker Spaniel "Precious", absolutely convinced we had her hidden somewhere. I went to ToysRUs at lunch time and bought her a life-sized, stuffed animal...a Cocker Spaniel. "Precious" is now ensconced on Dorothy's lap, both of them watching Jeopardy. Sometimes, it takes a lot to love someone..........and sometimes.....it takes very little. Sometimes all it takes is a toy, or a hug.
R.I.P. Mr. Joseph Raleigh Mendelsohn III. Tell Caroline I said "Hello."
'Where ecstasy leaves gravity and dances with wild eyes' by Ladywildalice