She loved the birds.
In the last place she called home, she’d ask to be wheeled out to the lobby area so she could sit and watch them. Even though I’d spent time in this place–a lifetime ago, when the old and infirm were people I didn’t know–I didn’t remember the birds. I thought it was odd, that this was a quirk to just this small farm town. The old folk’s home with the birds in the lobby.
I wish I’d spent more time with her there. I only went a handful of times, and I didn’t stay long when I did go. Adam and I went to see her when I moved him to campus for the first time; she kept calling him by another name, and she didn’t know who I was, either. He kept going anyway since he lived there in town, and spent time sitting with her and chatting.
I’ve never been comfortable sitting with death. Even just saying the word—death—makes me cry. It doesn’t matter if I’m talking about someone I know, or if someone else is talking about a person I’ve never met. I can’t help it; the subject comes up, I start crying. Always have.
Today I walked into an old folk’s home, the first one I’ve been in since she’s been gone. I was there to talk with a woman I’ve never met, to collect stories and facts to combine with pictures that will be printed in a book and bound in leather and given to her family.
Even though I’ve been in care facilities before, it’s jarring, seeing so many people who can’t care for themselves. I walked through different halls before I found the room I’d been dispatched to. There was a man in a wheelchair, who wanted to talk but couldn’t speak. He tried, and I failed to understand.
There were residents eating breakfast in community rooms, craning their necks the best they could to see the stranger in their midst. There were people eating breakfast in the community rooms, oblivious to the room and to anyone in their midst.
And there were birds. Birds just like the ones in the last place she called home.
The woman I went to see was eating, so we waited. The woman I was there with—the one who came to train me– told me stories about her life.
Me, I watched the birds.
I thought about how these folks must feel, having no place to go now but up and down the halls after living lives filled with joys and sorrows others will never know. I wondered how fast their years flew by even though some of the days seemed to crawl. I hoped people came to sit with them, people who aren’t so uncomfortable with death. I prayed they feel loved even when they’re sitting alone, watching the birds.
I thought about how she must have felt, whether she wanted to share more of her joys and sorrows with us. I wondered which parts of her life flew by and which days crawled. I hoped her days were filled with the company of people who weren’t so uncomfortable with death.
I prayed she felt loved when she sat and watched the birds.