A Tribute to the Life of Marie & A Special Mention for Marty
A Tribute to All of Those Who Died Alone
While turning on the flame to heat up the skillet to grill a plump ripe peach this morning, I got the news Marie had just died. In my mellow morning routine of preparing something good to eat, my day was just getting started while someone else’s had ended, finished, their life complete, eighty-sixed. Game over.
I don’t even know Marie’s last name, how old she was or anything much about her at all. All I know is she was my husband’s 95 year old mother Marty’s roommate in a state agency nursing home and she was completely alone. Tears well in my eyes as profound sadness envelopes me for her and so many like her that have no one and have wound out the days of the lives of their body battery clocks until they just stopped.
Goodbye Marie, who lived vicariously though eavesdropping on our frequent visits to Ms. Marty to bring flowers and cards, gifts and food, photos and news of our busy lives, frequent hikes and of our travels. I would notice her listening from her side of the divider curtain because she would chuckle and laugh out loud at interesting or pertinent moments of our conversations. Her presence was regrettably known by problematic flatulence, usually silent and deadly air bombs dropped, that disgusted and choked out the rest of us or who ever was unfortunate enough to be in the room. We delivered air fresheners in an attempt to sugar coat an intolerable condition of living in a small room shared by two in the nursing home with a common central commode shared by four residents.
When Marie’s curtain was open, I would acknowledge her coming or going from seeing Marty. When I set foot in this terrible place, the SF Care Center, where I believe they are doing their best, I hold my breath and my heart sinks. Marie, in her day, had been a physician, a cardiologist, and as her life and her mind unraveled, ravaged by Alzheimer’s, she was left behind in this social ward. Her and so many others who had at one time been affluent, well off, living privileged lives.
What on earth is wrong with our country to cast aside our elders in these old folks prisons of sorts who are living out the last of their days in deplorable conditions?
Marty’s privileged life as a physician’s wife had afforded her a beautiful Southwestern home for her and her sons and the ability to travel frequently to visit California and Mexico in her husband’s Cessna. She had been an avid gardener and reader with a hunger for adventure. How did she even end up in this place? Even she had hit the skids after her late husband plummeted in a downward spiral of Alzheimer’s along with their nest egg bank account as his special facility treatment center cost upwards of 10K per month.
Now, a year later, it has been six months since Marty has also met her maker. I was devastated to not be able to bring her home with us to die with dignity because in her last week it was too complicated, too political and too expensive for us to be able do so. I had to surrender to this in her last days and hours recognizing that she was actually already too far gone to even recognize where she was. After her three sons had gathered together for their final goodbyes she quickly slipped between worlds.
I was distraught how uneducated the nursing home staff was in palliative care and how much the attending hospice service lacked in their ability to bridge this gap. Why is a person with a DNR on oxygen? Why are they trying to keep feeding her after she has stopped eating, bringing her toast and orange juice? Why are they trying to wake her up to “comfort” her while she is trying to fall asleep permanently?
I was distressed, called Michael to intervene and waited. I sat at the foot of her bed, relieved to have some last moments alone with her although she was already gone.
I was glad the management had heeded my request for her to not have a new roommate so she and her sons could have the physical and energetic space needed for her die peacefully. For a split second I contemplated a pillow to put her out of her misery, fortunately my reason kicked in, and I realized this was her karma, her experience, her exact space, place and time to die. I cast a sacred circle, calling in the directions, all of the ancestors and animal spirits, Father Sun & Mother Earth. Ultimately my cry to the Beloved was answered because she died less than five hours later in my husband’s arms. When I walked into the room, a few short moments after her last, with tears in his eyes he said, “She was there for my first breath and I was there for her last”.
We take for granted all of the breaths we take to live however we do take notice of those moments that take our breath away. The call of death always commands this attention. Goodbye Ms. Marty, your smile lit the room and now, along with thousands of stars and galaxies, your Soul lights the skies. There is no gift like the present. Sink your teeth into and delight in this life. Wrap your lips around and taste this sweetness of being. Whether you are so blessed to have fresh peaches or not, rejoice in whatever fruit today’s harvest may bring to your table. Soul lives by giving. If you no longer have an elder to tend to, find one. I can assure you there is someone out there who needs a friend. Although our smiles may be masked by these tumultuous times our hearts need not be.