I decided to start volunteering with a local hospice organization. Hospice is a way of dealing with the end of life--rather than letting people die as they may in the institutional, techological black hole of the ICU, hospice tries to help people die with dignity, not using invasive methods, treating pain, and surrounding people with community. Sometimes that means that people die in their own homes, or it may take place in a nursing home or hospital.
I'd read about hospice, and heard about it, and after doing a home birth, the idea of a less-invasive, more personal death seemed kind of cool.
Plus, it sounded like volunteering with hospice would allow me bringing my child along to be an asset, not a liability.
Anyway, it took a while to get assigned to a person, but last week was my first time visiting her. I'll call her Maggie.
Maggie lives in a residential facility pretty close to my house. Because of her health issues, she's not really able to interact much, or say much, or really even move much. When I first saw her, with Lucy, she was eating lunch, well, being fed lunch, and her head was down. Her medium length grey hair was in her face.
I kind of wondered what I was getting myself into.
The first visit was a little awkward--a helpful person from the hospice was there with me to introduce me to Maggie, and so I kind of felt like I was Performing! To show how Comfortable I was! In front of my (sort of) Boss!
Lucy sat in my lap the whole time, her eyes as big as saucers. I'm not sure if it was the wheelchair, or Maggie's non-standard way of interacting with us, or the other resident who was wandering the garden, muttering to herself, but Lucy was a lt quieter than usual, and a little more willing than she usually is to stay in my lap.
At one point, Maggie said something, a whole sentence full of something, and I missed it entirely. Having a toddler, you'd think I would be used to only catching bits of conversations, but I was embarrassed, and said, "I'm sorry, Maggie, I couldn't hear you."
She looked away, and didn't say anything else.
Afterwards, the staff person told me that Maggie probably wouldn't remember what she had said, so I can just say something non-committal, like "That's wonderful!" or "Sweet", or "Fuhugugads", and it will be fine.
I felt awkward and dim, and wondered (again) what I'd gotten myself into.
Except for the last minute, before we left. We wheeled Maggie back inside, and I learned how to operate her wheelchair (with brakes. Note to self: remember to set the brakes on the very fragile lady's chair) and we said goodbye. That was when I realized that Maggie's head was up, she was looking at us--well, at Lucy, and she was smiling.
A few days later, I was kind of bored in the afternoon.
This is why I signed up to volunteer. I get bored sometimes, and it seems a shame. Couldn't I be useful in some way? Couldn't I get past my boredom and actually give of myself, and so, perhaps, feel better about the doldrums that come occasionally with housewifery?
Still, I hesitated.
I liked seeing Maggie smile. I like how she kept looking at Lucy, and how she tried to talk to us.
But old people's homes are weird, and people who are unable to move/talk/interact are awkward, and I was already out-of-sorts.
I got in my car, put on my Official Name Badge and parked.
As we marched to the front door, I told Lucy who we were visiting. "Maggie," I said.
"Maggie," she repeated. "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie."
We walked down the hall to Maggie's room. There was someone moaning in the hallway. "Owwww!" she yelled. "Owwww!"
I hoped it wasn't Maggie. I wondered if I should tell someone that a resident was in pain. Probably they knew? Seeing as she was yelling?
I asked a staff person where Maggie was--and he brought me to her room. As he walked in ahead of me, he said, "Oh, no!"
Not what I was hoping to hear.
I kind of stopped, hesitated, and said, "Is everything okay?"
She had rolled over in bed, and was half on the floor. The poor woman.
But he got her propped up again, and put the teddy bear she had dropped in her hand.
She saw us and smiled.
Lucy went mute and squirmed in my lap. She had remembered Maggie, but she still wasn't used to her.
I talked for a while, filling the silence. I told Maggie that Lucy was climbing on things now, and getting better at disobedience, an important skill. I mentioned the garden I had planted. I told her that Lucy liked "helping" with it--pouring water on the plants and her pants and her shoes. I told her that we liked telling Lucy that she was a rascal.
Maggie smiled. "Rascal," she said. "Rascal."
This time, I knew I understood her.
I got up and moved from the chair to the edge of her bed. I sat down.
Lucy wriggled out of my grasp. She wasn't ready to be so close. But funnily enough, I was.
I smoothed back some of Maggie's hair. It was drooping into her eyes. And I grabbed her hand. It's odd, how I don't know this woman really at all. She's (mostly) a closed book to me, and as far as I know, will continue to be. But sitting there on her bed, I knew her, and wanted her to be comfortable, and know she was loved, and that we would get to know the parts of her that we could.
"We're glad to be here," I said, glad it was true of me, hoping it would soon be true of Lucy. "We're happy to see you."
She mumbled something I couldn't understand. And then--I understood her whole sentance. "Tomorrow. I'll come to see you," she said.
"I'd like that," I said.
And meant it.