The automatic doors parted like theater curtains opening to signal show time. We were promptly greeted by a whiff of urine and vinyl … along with a tired looking nurse who added the subtle scent of lilacs to the strange mix. It had been nearly a year since we last saw Ed and a week since we received the first of three calls urging us to come as quickly as possible. He was having trouble swallowing and they weren’t sure how much longer he would last. We waited through a nerve-shredding week, as spring snows closed in on both ends of a twelve hour trip and made travel impossible, until now.
When they brought Ed from his room, the first thing I noticed were his hands … they were neatly folded in his lap, no longer grasping anything or holding on as before. His head tilted downward under its own weight and he appeared to be sleeping … we were told that was pretty much what he did these days. His now fragile frame was steadied in the wheelchair by a loosely fastened seatbelt and it quickly became clear that his dignity was now slipping away in full partnership with his quality of life.
Vigi worked on weaving her daughterly magic and I worked on trying to extract that perennial wad of gum from my throat. Neither of us had much success. The air in the lounge seemed to be growing more stale by the minute, as an old wall clock ticked away the time. We decided the three of us might be more comfortable in the fresher surroundings of the solarium. For the most part Ed was unresponsive but, even so, with all the loving respect of a small girl who once found strength in resting her head on Daddy’s shoulder, Veege asked him if he wanted to go.
I would have given odds that this sunny glass porch couldn’t possibly have been part of the subterranean atmosphere on the other side of the wall. Everyone’s mood improved almost instantly … even Ed stirred a little in his chair as if something had relaxed in his soul. As we moved through what was proving to be an almost leisurely afternoon, a pleasant looking man appeared in the doorway with a little Muppet of a salt and pepper dog. “Would he like to hold the puppy?” the gentleman asked. Given Ed’s apparent condition there didn’t seem to be any point to it, but we agreed that it certainly couldn’t do any harm. After all, the dog was used to visits with the old or infirm.
Vigi settled the little creature into Ed’s lap and placed one of his hands on its back. Slowly his fingers started to move in widening circles, then he began to stroke it. He continued to pet the ball of fluff for several minutes, a quiet smile beginning to form at the corners of his mouth. Was he remembering his old friend Spooky the cat, who had occupied that very position for nearly twenty years?
Suddenly, he raised his head and looked directly at Vigi. Their eyes met for only a moment but a lifetime of understanding passed between them. Neither spoke a word. Neither had to. They made a connection! To this day, she relives that moment and it makes her feel complete. She calls it her little secret. ”He was either telling me he was going or asking my permission to leave … but either way I know he was holding on, waiting for me to come.”
It was just about bedtime and we were packing to go home the next morning, when the phone rang. Ed had only a few more minutes … at most a few hours to go. We hurried to his bedside just in time to join the rest of the family, as the turmoil in his mind gave way to the gentleness of his spirit … and the prankster Ed we all remembered escaped to hold hands with his high school sweetheart once again.
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