“We ate the chicken salad for lunch, we need more, and we need to have jello around all the time,” Mom said as she laid on her bed recovering from the adjustment to her pills the caseworker had convinced her to try in order to “simplify” things. It had not gone according to plan.
“Okay Mom, I’ll make some.” I had stopped by during lunch.
“You can make some ham salad so we use up that ham.”
“Okay. How do you make it?
“Just onions and mayonnaise. Debbie, we need to have big jars of mayonnaise and salad dressing around all the time. I don’t like those squeeze bottles.”
“You have a big mayo, Mom. Joanie got it.”
“Yes. Are you sure you don’t add pickle relish to your ham salad?”
“No, only onions.”
“Okay. Got it. Mom?”
“You’re dehydrated.” Her mouth was dry as she spoke. “You need some water.”
“I’ll get some” Dad said. He had been sitting quietly at his desk. He was frustrated that the nurse had put Mom through undo suffering. “Honey, do you want ice?”
“Yes.” Dad left to get the water.
“Dad needs to swiffer mop the kitchen each day.” Mom continued. “Joanie says it gets dirty fast.” Joanie, my sister, came from Arizona to be with Mom and Dad through the months of Mom’s chemo. “He can do that. He needs some things to do or he’s just wandering around here.” Dad had recently retired so he could be with Mom to watch over her.
“Here’s your water, sweetheart.” Dad handed it to her.
“Where’s the ice? I said I wanted ice.”
“Right, I’ll get it.” Dad wore his concern on his face.
Oh marriage, I thought, if it’s a good one, it’s the place we feel safe to say what we really feel.
“Never mind.” Mom took a sip.
I looked at Dad and then at Mom. That’s when I could feel the flu setting in—confusion and weariness—there was too much information stirring in the air, in my head. I had brought a stew along with me which I had made the night before and had put it in the oven to warm for dinner. My cure all. Make a stew—it comforts and soothes as it transforms everyday air into a whiff of heaven. We were waiting for the hospice nurse to return for her second visit. We needed to have a stew in the oven.
I got up and went into the kitchen to make the jello and ham salad. When I pulled the two pieces of the old metal meat grinder and the heavy blade out of the drawer to be assembled, I remembered all the Saturdays Mom and Dad had made Spam salad together for our lunch when we were kids. I started chopping onions and Dad took over the ham grinding. I thought of the song Grandma Wenzler used to sing to us when we were little–there was a little butcher man his name was Dunderbeck. He’s very fond of poodle dogs, sauerkraut and speck For pussy cats and long tail rats are no more to be seen…never mind, I’ll stop there.
Mom had come from her bedroom and was sitting at the dining room table ready for the nurse’s second visit. Dad laid a newspaper on the floor, hooked up the grinder to the side of the kitchen table and started grinding the meat.
“Are you sure you don’t want any pickle relish in this, Mom?” I was certain we always put pickle relish in ham salad.
“Okay, maybe a little.” Mom agreed, so I mixed some in along with the onions and mayo.
“Lots of mayo Debbie–I like it moist.”
I presented the concoction to her for inspection as Dad cleaned up the ham that had fallen onto the newspaper on the floor.
“It needs a little more mayonnaise.” I returned to the kitchen. “And more pickle relish or I won’t be able to taste it.”
That’s the spirit Mom!
It took Mom three days to determine what it had been that hit her so hard that first meeting we had with our hospice nurse. She called me before breakfast on the third day and her voice was strong.
“Oh Debs, I figured it out. I told your Dad that it was the first time I felt as though I was being treated like I was dying–that my body was giving up. The nurse said there was no need to worry about my blood or liver tests. No need to take vitamins anymore. It was a change in approach as to how I was to live my life in the days ahead. I have always lived each day of my life with hope. People need hope, even if it’s just for a day.”
I thought every new nurse should be required to memorize that statement. ‘Everybody needs hope, even if it’s just for a day.’ As soon as Mom could articulate what it was exactly she had experienced, she regained her dignity and spunk. She went to bed that night and slept soundly. Meanwhile, I knew we needed a new nurse. Dad agreed but gave me some instructions, “Whenever your brother Ed would have to deal with an ornery client that was giving the firm a hard time I would tell him, ‘Be sure to take the fruits with you.’ So I’m reminding you to take the fruits when you make the call. Do you know what they are Debbie?”
He made me smile, “I do Dad–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self- control.” (Galatians 5:22,23)
“Very good. Don’t forget them when you make the call. We want to help her be a better nurse not beat her down.”
And that little story summarizes my parents approach to life—live with hope, have compassion and don’t forget the fruits. I made the call to Hospice and we were assigned a new nurse. Nurse Lucy. She was everything we needed in the days ahead.
I went to bed that night grateful for Mom’s strong spirit, Dad’s wisdom and our new, gentle nurse. I tried to come to terms with the fact we had no idea what Mom would be facing. She looked me in the eyes and told me she barely cried when her own mother died, “And you know how much I loved Mother. I just knew it was her time and that she was ready. I don’t want anyone crying over me. Okay?”
“Okay, Mom.” I lied.