Six weeks have passed since I last visited the care center, and in such a small time everything seems to have changed, yet everything still seems the same. The same four tables, the same yellow walls, the same three nurses, the same sea of gray metal walkers. But something was definitely not the same and I struggled for a few moments to figure out what it was.
Some health issues, thankfully now resolved, kept me away for the past month and a half and after seriously considering not returning, I ultimately figured out I couldn't not go back. I missed the old, confused folks who are sometimes the only thing that remind me just why we have to live our lives to the fullest now, even if I don't always do such a good job at it. I still can always use the weekly reminder. I made my usual rounds, saying hello to everyone, telling them how pretty they looked, or how much I liked their sweaters, or asking if they were hungry for dinner. A few of my friends on the outside asked me earlier this week if I thought any of the residents would remember me, and I had to admit I didn't think so. Sure enough, I don't think they did, though I did get a military salute from Don like he always does. Alma greeted me by telling me how beautiful I looked and wondering aloud if I've gone out to Hollywood yet to make it big with my beauty. I love Alma. I caught up with Bernice and Lorraine and noticed a couple of new faces. I also noticed a couple of missing faces, namely Mary and John.
Mary has been my main charge for over a year now, half of the Gudrun - Mary duo that has dominated my Wednesday dinners for so long. I've been feeding Mary one hundred percent of her dinner because of her inability to do so. Not her physical inability, but her emotional inability. Her brain just wouldn't allow her hands to work they way they should anymore. Mary spent most meals repeating nonsensical phrases, her favorite being Lawrence Welk's "a one and a two and a three." By the last weeks I saw her in March, she couldn't even lift her head and I literally had to gingerly maneuver a spoon full of pureed something-or-other into her mouth as it rested partially on the laminate table top. I knew she wasn't well, but people last for years unwell so I didn't think too much of it. So when I didn't see Mary right away tonight at her regular spot where her wheelchair fit between Rosalie and Gudrun, I had to ask Kollie the nurse. He told me sadly in his thick Liberian accent that she had died. Honestly, I couldn't even be sad. As cliche as it may be, she is definitely in a better place than she was. I told Kollie that it was probably about time and he agreed. The other missing face tonight belonged to John, a fellow of no more than seventy years, tops, that had joined the dementia unit only about six or eight months prior, but whom I really liked because of his sweet face and demeanor. While he sometimes had an absent look in his eyes, he still said things that made sense and he was cute. His wife visited from time to time, including at the Christmas party in December. I remember watching her hold his hand and sing carols next to him and I wondered what her life was like. Not seeing John at his regular table with Doris and Barbara tonight, I couldn't help but hope he had simply moved to a different unit. But Kollie told me that John had also died. In my two years there, I don't think more than four or five people have died, and in the five dinners I missed two have gone. Again, I'm not so much sad for John as I am for the people who loved him and at least had his physical being there when they needed to see him. John and Mary will be missed.
With Mary gone, it was time for me to take on a new challenge tonight, and a challenge it was. I've written about Melvin before, he's the tall man-child that once peed all over the dining room floor during dinner service and routinely screams in his muppet-like voice about all things indecipherable. Tonight I actually asked Kollie if he ever understands anything Melvin says and, to my relief, he told me no. So it isn't just me. Melvin was rambunctious and talkative as I prodded him to swallow bite after bite of his cheeseburger and fries. He actually did a very good job until he knocked over his full glass of milk which totally upset Alma but had no effect on Gudrun whatsoever. I had to convince Melvin throughout the meal to concentrate on eating and to forget about putting his hand down the front of his sweatpants while bald Lorraine cried like a baby to anyone that would listen that nothing was fair and she didn't like her food.
I'm back at it and, like I said, everything has changed and everything still seems the same.