Meeting Rose

Posted: June 11th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate, Mom | No Comments »

Last week there was a volunteer meeting at Chaparral House, and a woman from hospice came to talk about death and grieving. I was looking forward to it. A few times on our Wednesday visits Kate and I had gone to Rose’s room and found the door ominously closed. I panicked on my walk to the nurses’ station with my heart rising up in my throat, but each time one of the nurses has bluntly told me something along the lines of, “Rose is in the activities room watching a movie.” Okay. Phew!

I’ve intentionally avoided asking anyone about the state of Rose’s health, even when she was briefly hospitalized a month ago. I don’t even know how old she is, but I assume somewhere in her eighties. For a while I told myself I didn’t want to invade her privacy, but I knew I really just wanted to be in denial about Rose’s age and frailty. So, I figured this meeting might push me towards a reality check, and help to gird me for what inevitably lies ahead.

The hospice woman, Karen, was amazing. Kind and articulate. I savored every word she said. She was the kind of person who you wish you could go up to after an inspiring lecture or concert and say something to them that would make them like you as much as you like them–make you stand out in the crowd amidst all their other admirers. You just wanted to be her friend.

So, cool Karen talked to us about the people who we visit at Chaparral House, and the fact that they’re at the end of their lives, what that means, how we can talk to them about that when/if appropriate, and how to handle those conversations in the moment and in our own heads. All really good practical stuff that got me a bit more geared up to some day deal with these things with Rose.

Then she opened the meeting up for more of a conversation, and asked us (about 10 volunteers and a few staffers) to share what experiences we’d had, if any, with grief. A few people spoke, then the woman to the left of me offered up her story. She said when she was 20 her 45-year-old mother died. As a result she and her sister had to care for their six younger siblings (including two–yes two–sets of twins). The woman said she was so overwhelmed by having to take on all that work that she never had time to mourn for her mother. Understandably, in the course of saying all this, she broke down.

Here she was crying for what seemed like one of the first times about her mother’s death over 30 years ago. And then she started talking about her work at Chaparral House—that she’s visiting with women who are around the age her mother would be now. It doesn’t take a shrink to see why she’s there and what she is doing. Her story was so tragic. I couldn’t imagine being in her shoes so I couldn’t quite empathize, but my God I felt for her. How great that she found Chaparral House, I thought.

And then I started to piece together my ‘grief experience’ in my mind, and considered whether I wanted to say anything aloud to the group. I also thought about how I’d explain what brought me to Chaparral House.

This is essentially what I said:

“My mother died a little over two years ago, and she said she never wanted my sisters or I to care for her if her illness got to a point where she was really incapacitated. And it ended up that her descent was really sudden and rapid. One day my sister Marie called to say I should probably fly home.

On the flight I thought of all the things that I’d say to my mother when I saw her, but when the plane landed I called my sister and she told me mom had died. I decided right then to not beat myself up over not getting home in time to see her. I think it all happened exactly how she wanted it to.

Since having Kate, I’ve experienced a kind of resurgence of grief for my mother. Being a mother myself, I now know how much mothers love their children. And that makes me miss my mother even more.

So, Chaparral House. After so many years of working so much, now that I’m home with Kate and have the time I wanted to do something—make a deposit in the karmic bank, as it were. But my first day at Chaparral House was filled with trepidation. What was I thinking that I wanted to come to a nursing home?

I dragged myself there and nervously walked down the halls with Kate and a list of residents who like babies. None of the people on my list were in their rooms. Then I rounded a corner and saw a mopey woman in her wheelchair looking out into the hallway for some action. I looked at my list: Rose Horowitz. Bingo. As I walked towards her she looked up and saw Kate and she just lit up.

I’d been so worried about what to talk to these people about, but Rose was so enthralled with Kate that our conversation just flowed from that. She had two sons, but neither was married, she said. She had no grandchildren. “You have to come on a Saturday so I can show my sons this beautiful one,” she said. “They will see what they are missing!”

At one point during that first visit Rose muttered something that sounded like Polish to Kate. Yes, she said, she was born in Poland and left after the war. My mother was also Polish–well, born to Polish immigrants.”

So, it seemed somewhat fortuitous that Kate and I found Rose. She needs a grandchild. Kate needs a Polish bopchi. And so in that way that it’s easy to make a crack psychological diagnosis of the person sitting next you but seems impossible to diagnose yourself, it became more clear than ever to me in that meeting why Rose is so special to us. Because of my mother, it will be extra hard for me when Rose is gone.

I’ve lamented before that without my mother here I miss being able to call her to drone on about Kate’s many wonders—and to know that avid grandmother that she was, she’d share my enthusiasm for every small thing.

This past Wednesday I was holding Kate on my lap and Rose leaned in to look at her and said, “Ah, you see that? Her ears.They are so tiny and so perfect.” I shot back, “I know! Aren’t they?” And for the next five minutes we talked about Kate’s precious ears. It was great.

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