I no longer sit on the diagonal in the living room of Uncle Bobby’s two-room assisted living apartment. Rather, I sit right next to the newly installed hospital bed in his darker bedroom. He no longer articulates a desire to get back out to the living area to take his spot in the comfortable lounge chair. The television has been moved to the bedroom, and Fox News talking heads drone on and on, now at a lower decibel. This absurd, but entertaining, presidential election does not absorb him as it did throughout the previous nine months.
During the last 16 months, Uncle Bobby made it challenging for me to leave at the end of my daily visits. Almost always there was a “one more thing” as I tried to make my way out the door. Yesterday, as he pulled the white matelassé bedspread to his chin to cover the hospital Johnnie he now wears, he said to me in resignation, “I think I just need to be quiet today, go on with yours.” Six months ago I would have skipped out of that apartment, relieved by the gift of time. Yesterday, I left feeling pensive
Since his arrival, Uncle Bobby has conducted the orchestra of people who tend to the business of his dwindling life. His personality, if not his unwilling body, stood tall at the stand as he masterfully toned down the cacophony around him. He urged on the deep tones of the strings and raised the magic of the wind instruments to suit the mood of his day. Regardless of his physical challenges, he was a Maestro in command. Today, it struck me that he is preparing to rest his baton.
The world of the actively dying leaves little space for grand conversation or incisive philosophy. His world is shrinking, his concerns are immediate and deservedly self-centered. He shows no interest in being helped from his bed to a chair, and “food, glorious food”, holds little appeal. He is now acutely invested in the relentless itch on his backside, where bedsores have taken up residence. He wonders when they will heal and what can be done to relieve them. Not much really, besides propping him just so to give them air. Not so very easy or comfortable when every bone and muscle is weak.
Nilda is the primary CNA today and she is a love, as patient and kind as she is beautiful. Widowed young, she found happiness in a new marriage and we have come to know her immigrant story over this incredible year. She speaks beautiful English, peppered with the accent of her Brazilian homeland. I am a fixer, a talker, an impatient American woman who struggles to be more mindful, less reactive. It is a struggle I generally lose.
Nilda is a listener.
Uncle Bobby needs more listeners these days.
It was beautiful to watch from my perch as Nilda straightened his bedcovers. She merely nodded at intervals as Uncle Bobby weakly railed on about the frustration of the day.
“It’s a small thing”, he begins, directing the conversation to her.
“Orange juice, not cranberry.”
He pauses to lick his lips, which are always parched now.
“Just a small glass of orange juice to start the day. Is that too hard to understand?”
Nilda stops and leans into him with and places her hand on his bruised forearm.
“No, no, Robert, it’s not hard all.”
She moves on to fold a blanket.
At this point, I’ve heard so much about the shortage of orange juice that I want to run to the kitchen myself, or find an orange tree and pick a ripe one to squeeze for him. But I may as well be three states away. Nilda is his focus.
He goes on with resignation,
“Seems simple enough, but she comes back with cranberry!”
He waves his hand in disgust.
At this final agitation, Nilda laughs softly, looks him straight in the eye and says, “It’s not hard at all, but they get caught up in busy work and don’t take time.”
She turns her eyes to me, “He is so easy, if only they would take time to listen to Robert.”
And with that Uncle Bobby gives Nilda the idiom approval of the week, as he turns his head toward me, “See that. Nilda just hit that nail on the head with a big hammer!”
Nilda throws her head back, “Oh, Robert, you make me laugh.”
She is done, his diatribe is over, and all agitation is from his gaunt face. You can see his entire body relax and settle back into the same position he has been in nearly all day.
I feel free to leave. Nilda can move on to her next task and Uncle Bobby can rest.
Nilda, the Brazilian listener, is a surprising gift to an old man who just needs someone to listen.