It wasn’t unexpected. She’d been hospice-bound for nearly two years, her mind slip-sliding away. And she suffered debilitating pain from arthritis in her back, heart ailments and the singular demolition of the spirit brought on by old age.
She and her husband, Wally, retired to a full-care facility: independent living in a small but tidy apartment with meals provided, eat-in or take-out, full service and cafeteria style. In a world of constraints, it offered them the means to provide a window into their new lives.
Odd that: remembering her standing with my son and I in a line, listening to the familiar litany of how the home provided such tasty treats … the Jell-O and puddings the highlight of a meal with chicken served bite-sized and the gravy warm.
“This is my daughter-in-law and our grandson, Kevin.”
Do you see? They came to visit.
The tour was ever the same, but then, how do you vary endless halls on endless floors, the doors blank-eyed stares and challenges. Wally: we used to go to the mall early in the morning and do laps, but he(she) is (in hospice care, bed-ridden, too weak, too frail, too…). Somedays, they’d only manage the interminable lengths of carpeted tunnels. Pointing to a door, he’d share: that one is empty now … no explanation needed.
The holidays were joyously celebrated with decorations and lights and bells adorning each doorway, the inhabitants vying for best-of-show with fervor and pride. Until the township decreed it a hazard and the wails of despair rang loud until depression won out and silence and sameness returned.
But the cafeteria remained, still and ever the highlight. The food was included, but not for us and they’d insist on treating us, not allowing their visitors to go without. You learned early on that resistance was futile.
I grew up in that culture, the one where providing a meal, any meal, to visitors was an occasion and a matter of pride and obligation. It was what you did. There are some traditions that have such intrinsic value that they resonate with love and caring and the bonds of family. It transcends animosities and petty quarrels, past and future perceived injustices or slights, the dysfunctions of people in close proximity, be that in a physical space or a mental shroud.
Alice played clarinet, in local and regional groups, along with Wally who for years had his own Big Band group. They were good, more than good really. They played at our wedding, seventeen members strong, the sound incredible. They were booked years in advance for New Year’s Eve. Alice preferred smaller venues, then withdrew to keep house and tend to her remaining offspring.
We buried her son, my husband, in 1985. She called him Mickey but we seldom went there, a mutual understanding that some things were best left alone, some grief too raw to share when the parting was by choice rather than circumstance. Perhaps that’s something women understand best, when to keep it close to the heart, when to let it out. In the end it separated us, imposing awkwardness and increasing distance.
Although the home offers medical and hospice care, Alice often spent weeks in the hospital, recovering from a series of strokes. She was never alone, the women caregivers a constant presence, even if it meant simply sitting along the wall quietly gossiping over the trivia of life.
She kept house, raised her children, volunteered at church.
She is survived by her husband, three daughters, nine grandchildren and at least five great-grandchildren.
She will be missed.