old people

we do this poorly

we don’t seem to know how to be with people whose bodies fail, whose minds pixelate, dissipate


I think about p., his frontal lobe and all I’ve learned about it; the notion of a shaken etch-a-sketch™ comes to mind. stirred and shaken. particles scattered.

yesterday, in the lunch room. the man in the FBI Jesus baseball cap. fully believe in Jesus. I LOVE JESUS written along the visor. a woman with a gold colored disc-shaped container passing out wafer thin communion circles as the room slowly empties. from where I watch, it’s all silent. residents’ eyes closed, lips moving. women residents wearing baseball caps, too.

the man behind us feeding himself chocolate pudding with his fingers.

no one moves. too many of us need help and too few of us know how to give it

I move a chair, or a table. help my hospice patient who lives down the hall from p., whose stroke is never the direct cause of his being in stir — it’s always after a hospitalization for something with his foot, with mobility, when I can’t move him. that they send him off to days and weeks of rehab. my late summer respite of sorts, but not, because visits. because it feels like the more they do this, the more they take. bits of him, of who he is.

then he reappears: feisty when the lady asks him for yet more blood while he’s eating the grey meatball in the red sauce with spaghetti. Jesus cap man says it’s edible when I ask how it is. he tells us how his mother told him to eat everything on his plate or he’d get his ass kicked.

they sit at the table, p. and Jesus cap, engaged in almost parallel play. each eating. separate at a tiny square table. I worry that p. might take Jesus cap’s pudding when he finishes his own, but Jesus cap eats it after his salad.

there’s a rhythm to the room, to the place. I try to see community, not pall; acceptance, not isolation. the woman whose square of sugared ham slice rests on her big napkin bib. the chocolate pudding dripping off the man I don’t know and so can’t help.

I tell the help staff I wish they’d known p. before. I think about all the people there and all of who they were and are. and sometimes for myself wish only for a quiet speedy death.

not today, not soon. but when it’s time. this other, paying people no money to speak of to care for bodies and souls when no one else can. or will. this thing we do now we do badly. exceptionally so.

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