My last visit with Ida and she grouches a little at Gerry while she tells me she definitely has good days and bad days. “Today is bad.” This is rare: to hear a cross word exchanged. Gerry has helped with all the daily chores; even though they have some hired help, Ida prefers to have his assistance with her personal care should she need it. I review, yet again, the team members who can be available to Ida, like the bath aide, and she tells me, “I don’t like people seeing me naked. I have small breasts,” (and she laughs with gusto). I don’t mind if it’s Gerry …..After all these years I still think he is a lovely man. Look at him. He is a great man…”
As I look, I witness a shared expression that is filled with loving sweetness.
Ida comments “I have a lot more worries than just physical. The thing I worry about more is my emotional state”. She explains that she looks in the mirror and sees this person she doesn’t even recognize. “I’ve been facing this all very nicely until I see her: Who is that ugly woman? Who is that person, that nasty person that looks so awful?”
Gerry of course tells her she certainly doesn’t look awful, but Ida wistfully looks at their framed anniversary picture from not that many months ago, when she was shiny and healthy and proud that she still fit into her seventy-one-year-old wedding
dress and wasn’t feeling weak all the time, with an underlying achiness from the tumor growth that she seldom mentions.
Now she is thinner every day, while her belly grows larger.
Then she says “I have had plenty of time to think about all this. To decide where the funeral should be, and imagine who will be there. You know, I have my belief in God that has been a comfort to me all these years. I have a spirituality that has deepened and I don’t feel at all afraid, like I know some people do. But I worry about not being able to have this happen the way I see it.”
When I ask to know more about that, Ida tells me, “I want to be remembered in a kind way, not as some mean person, you know: a bitch!” and she shakes with laughter.
Gerry, who is hard of hearing, has to have this repeated as he scoots his chair closer and says, “This is simply not possible, for her to be a bitch”.
As we all laugh together, I think to myself about the unadorned honesty of the dying. And the moments of intimacy that I get to experience with people as special as Ida and Gerry. I will miss them both.
The three of us do some problem solving together, taking care of a few of the practical aspects of improving her days whenever possible; while understanding some of her
frustration and irritability and easing her fears of becoming someone heinous: in fact she is a person experiencing dying.
I say a brief silent prayer, for a mercifully gentle passing for this beautiful woman with such concern for others, such intrepid humor, and such unfaltering love.