Glen’s Office

He helped me figure out the code to open the doors at the Village at Smith Creek continuing care center one evening. I had just finished my visit with Veronica and hadn’t realized the code had changed until I tried the old code to find it didn’t work.

Glen was always helping out or sitting at the corner table next to Linda, his wife. She sat as she always did – in a wheelchair, her head tilted to the side, eyes closed – with beautiful smooth silver-grey hair. She has been at Smith Creek for the last 12 years so Glen knows all about the ins and outs of everything that happens there. He knows who has moved in, who takes coffee or tea, who has changed tables, who is fighting with her husband, who needs a chair for supper and who has a wheelchair instead. And he knows when someone has died.

He was the first person who spoke to me there the day Veronica died. I had been at her bedside all night as she was in palliative care. I was just coming back in to check on her and glanced ahead of me to see someone say something to Veronica’s mom. She quickened her laborious gait and wailed aloud in grief. I knew Veronica was gone before Glen told me.

IMG_1598“You missed her by 10 minutes” he said as he poured me a cup of hot tea from the carafe waiting there. I sat at his table (affectionately referred to as his ‘office’ by both of us). Veronica’s family was in saying goodbye and, as I was relatively new in her life, I gave them their space. I had started the habit of stopping by Glen’s office on my way in and out just to chat and see how he and Linda were doing. He’s quick to pick on me in a way that makes me feel welcome. And he offers me a cup of tea and a chair.

“You’re not going to stop coming now, are you?” Glen asked me. I hadn’t thought about it really. I had been coming by once a week for about 5 years and I never once thought about what I would do once Veronica was gone. “As long as your office is still open,” I found myself responding.

And I look forward to Tuesday Tea Time. He forgoes getting the coffee and tea for all the other residents on Tuesday afternoons. He says that way the people who are paid to do it remember how to do their jobs. Instead, get a hug, a cup of tea, and a listening ear. He now, along with knowing all about everyone at Smith Creek, knows all about me. He asks me why I do what I do and tells me what he thinks I should  do instead. I find out if anything other than status quo has happened in his week. And we always end up laughing – usually at me. He feeds Linda her supper not even realizing that his listening ear and generous heart are at the same time feeding my soul.

When Eyes Could Speak

I set down my travel mug filled with Bengal Spice Tea on her side table and moved a small chair over to the edge of Veronica’s bed. Her new bed adjusted to help her sit up as it was now too hard to move her to the chair. The days of using a walker or wheelchair to enjoy the outdoor gardens are long past. We used to talk together but those days are nearly gone as well. She is having a hard time moving her finger along the letter chart to spell out words so we mostly watch TV together.

We watch cooking shows. I can’t conceive of why. Veronica hasn’t been able to eat for a while. The last soft loaf of bread I brought in for her was given away because her swallowing had become more difficult. She depends completely on the stomach tube now. But we’d still watch the cooking shows. I’d laugh and tell her she must think I needed help cooking. Her eyes would laugh with me.

laura and friend

You can tell a lot from someone’s eyes. Her room phone would ring and her eyes would dart toward the phone asking me to pick it up. I’d answer it and then hold it up to her ear so she could hear her mom talk to her. Her eyes would flicker in response to her mom’s words. They’d tear up and, even though I couldn’t understand the language being spoken on the phone, I knew her mom was saying how much she loved her. Calling her precious.

She could tell me to change the channel with her eyes too. I’d go for trial and error until her eyes said it was the correct channel. Sometimes she just gave up because I couldn’t figure it out. If Keith Urban was on, it was always the right channel. She loved his songs. She and her husband had recorded themselves singing his songs back when she was well and they were together. She didn’t hold the fact that he couldn’t handle her illness against him. She told me he did his best.   Magda, her sister would stop by too. She’d talk enough for all of us. I would rarely find a pause long enough to comment. Her English was broken but her stories of the old country were fascinating and I’d sip my tea and listen. I could tell Veronica sometimes didn’t agree with the way her sister was telling a story – but she couldn’t verbally correct her. She’d just comment with her eyes.

I miss those tea times. Her mom welcomed me at her daughter’s funeral. I don’t see her, Todd or Magda any more but that’s OK. I learned so much about grace in that chair beside Veronica’s bed when her eyes could still speak.