Grama spent her last 2 years at Augustana Care Center, a nursing home. During her stay, she had 4 different roommates. The first one was there the longest, a woman who didn’t seem old enough to be in a nursing home, she rode around in a scooter and was on continuous oxygen. She died. Then there were 2 short term roommates, both who moved out. The last one was Marie. Unfortunately, she was the one with near perfect hearing, the one who had to endure months of Grama’s incessant praying, which became chatter, which became gibberish, which became crying out in pain in the last couple of weeks until her medications were properly managed.
When I was sitting with Grama in the last week, Marie would always open the curtain and chat with me on her way in or out. It was a kind of awkward relationship. Marie wasn’t shy about telling me how horrible it was to listen to my Grama crying out. Her face mirrored the horror and disbelief of being subjected to listening to someone in the throws of dementia who also had a bad bedsore on her lower back. It was the strangest thing to watch Grama react to the pain. She would contort her face, arch her back, try to reach underneath her and sometimes just scream, but then a second later her body and face would relax and she looked peaceful. Such an expressive face. Sometimes when I would stay late, I would hear Marie making her bedtime phone call to her husband, telling him about her day, complaining about Grama. I was angry to listen to her talking shit about my Grama, but I also felt so sorry for what she had to go through.
It’s holiday time, with potlucks and parties, so I’ve begun making batches of pumpkin gingerbread. I first made it last year and went through some compulsive bingeing on bread that wasn’t given away right away. It’s not a safe food for me to keep on hand at home 🙂 And you know, might I say, it’s fucking delicious. Each batch makes 3 loaves and this weekend I had 2 parties. I’d been thinking about bringing a loaf to Grama’s staff at Augustana for a while. I even thought of making a mini loaf to bring just for Marie. But what I decided to do was bring a full loaf to staff. I put a couple of Grama’s funeral programs in the wrapping and headed down.
Walking down the familiar hallways was weird. And totally normal. Like my body went back to the days when this was a regular occurance… up the elevator, past the main nurses station, down the hall and through the doors to Grama’s wing. I passed her room. I’ve always been curious about who Marie’s new roommate would be, who would take Grama’s spot. I was surprised to see a man’s name! Co-ed?!? The must be low on space or something. I passed her room and went and chatted with the nurse and handed off the bread. “Hi, I’m Naomi’s granddaughter.” My standard introduction there. “I know who you are!” she said accross the desk. This was my least favorite nurse and I was really hoping it would be some of the staff that I actually liked. But oh well. She thanked me and said how much they liked treats. She told me she would put the program up on the bulletin board. Short but sweet, I headed back out the way I came.
As I passed Grama’s old room, I looked again at the nameplates in passing, and my eye caught that the separation curtain was open. I did a double take while my legs were still moving.
Same last name as Marie!
I turned around, kind of shocked, big dopey smile. Oh my God, her husband is her new roommate! I started to remember more of those bedtime calls. One time she asked him if he was surprised to see her when she came to visit. During the early days I remember taking note that Marie had a living husband. I assumed he lived independently at home, but then in later conversations it became clear that he was also living in a nursing home. At the time I had assumed that he was living at a different facility. Maybe he was, or maybe he had been at Augustana all along.
I walked into the room to say hi to Marie and try to get the story, but she was fast asleep. And so was her husband, in Grama’s old spot. The space looked totally different, so it didn’t feel weird that she wasn’t there. And I just felt such a peace and happiness that when Grama died, she made room for him.
Something about it feels just. Like, Marie put up with so much unpleasantness as Grama was dying, and here is her reward. I don’t know anything about their marriage. Who knows, maybe they annoy each other, maybe they fight, maybe he’s much sicker than I imagine, maybe Marie has gotten worse. I don’t really care. I just know that Grama’s last act brought a husband and wife back together, and that makes me happy on this mad search to find meaning in death.