Aunt Laura, born in 1910, died Thanksgiving night 2009. Pretty good run of years. Laura lived to be 99; my dad lived to be 93. Paying Aunt Laura my last respects, I couldn't help having the selfish thought that, if I live to my potential longevity, I'm not yet even half-way dead.
Dad and Laura died in the same nursing home, one I've been visiting for five years. I'll visit less now that Aunt Laura is gone, but I'll still go to play guitar and chat with the other residents from time to time, especially a few I've come to befriend like Dottie, Aunt Laura's roommate.
Dottie is feisty in a Warren Beatty, Mae West, Madonna type way. Most everything you say to her she can take and turn back at you as a sexy quip. She makes me laugh, and she makes the nurses blush. I don't think I have to tell you it takes a bit to make most elder care nurses blush. Believe me, I've had fun trying.
They say deaths come in threes. After having spent five years regularly visiting a nursing home, I've become able to recognize certain signs that someone is nearing their end. During a recent late afternoon visit, I recognized a few of the signs in Dottie.
The night I speak of, Dottie and I chatted for a good long while, but unlike most times when Dottie makes eye contact when we visit, she kept her head straight, her eyes staring at the ceiling, as she searched for each breath more intently.
Dottie wasn't saying much, though she did mention her kids, as always, and how they'd brought her from Florida so they could watch over her. "I want to go back," Dotty said, separating each word with a breath or two.
There was a dish of peanuts on her bedside that I was picking at while we visited. I wanted to leave to go eat dinner, but the more time passed, the more I felt I should stay, I felt it might be the last I'd see of Dottie. As we chatted and I nibbled Dottie's dish of nuts, the minutes turned to hours, and I finally felt I needed to leave.
I bent over a still, staring straight ahead Dottie, kissed her forehead like I always do, and said, "Dottie, I gotta go. I'll drop by again."
Dottie didn't answer.
As I turned to leave, I noticed I'd eaten all of Dottie's nuts. "Dotty, I've eaten all of your peanuts, I'll be right back, I'm going to the kitchen to refill your bowl."
I hadn't made another step when Dottie's breathing rate increased while she lifted her right arm ever so slightly from the bed and pointed it toward me. She seemed just about up against her last bit of strength when she said, "Oh don't worry hun, I just suck the chocolate out of them anyway."
Rusty DeWees tours Vermont and Northern New York with his act "The Logger." His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen for The Logger, Rusty DeWees, Thursdays at 7:40 on the Big Station, 98.9 WOKO or visit his website at www.thelogger.com