I am cleaning out Mom’s house. On the bookshelf, there were some large print books that I thought might be appreciated at the library of the Residence Mom stayed in. I also have accumulated a large collection of florist’s vases since Mom passed away. Our house was filled with magnificent flowers for about four weeks.

When I was visiting Mom at the residence, I would take two large bouquets – I think I mentioned this before – and divide one up for some of our favourite residents. I bought one of these bouquets on Sunday and then promptly left it at Franc’s house. On Wednesday, I took down the Reader’s Digest large print books and the vases. I saw Ethel in her room on the fourth floor. She’s been moved up from the second, which I find very hopeful because the second floor is for palliative care and she was a misfit there. She is cognitively very good and the moaning and disruption of less mentally capable patients was distressing to her.

When I saw the Minister of our church, he told me that he had been advocating for Ethel. She was very depressed since my mother had died; she had been dwelling on her own imminent death and was having some difficulty in coming to terms with this. ” She’s got the money,” he stated quite forcefully. ” I had to stir up that lawyer fellow who is looking after her affairs to spend some of it on her. She needs some counselling. And I got the home to pay attention to her moods. It’s getting a bit better, I think, from what I saw last time I went in.”

I knew Ethel was feeling low. It hadn’t made it any better that I’d simply dropped everyone there as soon as my mom died. I learned too, the the minister had persuaded the lawyer to get Ethel a companion worker who would come in several times to help her walk. She was supposed to be exercising but no one was helping her with it and a fall would have been disasterous. She needed the help and I applauded the Minister’s efforts.

So on Wednesday when I managed to see Ethel, she raised her hands above her head in a show of delight. She was very happy to see me. I sat for a short while, but I had an appointment at two in the afternoon and had to skedaddle. I promised I’d come have dinner with her in the solarium next week sometime. On the way out, I saw Little Ethel as well and had to stop and talk. Then just as I was going out the front door, I saw Gladys.

Now you haven’t met Gladys before. Gladys is a lovely grandmotherly type. She has survived cancer which was trigger just shortly after her husband had died in this same Residence. Gladys and her husband were one of the few couples in the residence. When he passed away, she went back to their home which had lain empty while he convalesced. But she found herself lonely and missing him terribly. When the cancer struck, she was so weak that she couldn’t care for herself, so she booked herself back in and the rest is history. She’s one of the younger residents, I’m guessing about seventy-five.

Gladys is an avid reader and I’ve supplied her with books. She even came to our workplace charity book sale and went away with a few treasures to read. She chose so many that I suggested that she only take one home on the bus. I’d deliver the rest to her. After all, I was going to see Mom every day. It made no difference to me; but it sure made it easier for her.

Every night at the Residence, when dinner was just about over, Gladys would come by the table and tell us about her day, ask after everyone’s health and exhort my mother to eat with a gentle grandmotherly coaxing.

So often in these residences, the people in them begin to feel worthless. They have contributed to society all their lives. Now they are incapable of doing for themselves, and they feel they can’t be of help to anyone else. It’s quite devastating for people to come to this pass.

Caring for others, giving them conversation and love is one of things some of the residents can do for each other. Those who take on this task do so for themselves as much as for those they comfort. I must say, that these people are worth their weight in gold. They bring so much comfort to others.

So as I was leaving, Gladys was just headed out for a walk. We had a good chat, then I said I had to run. That appointment at two, you remember. It already was two.

This is Thursday and Franc brought in the flowers this morning. They were pretty good looking still, nevertheless, to refreshen them I washed down all the stems, recut the ends and divided this bouquet into three for the three little mothers who spent so much time comforting us. I wrapped them up in some cellophane wrap and headed down to the Residence.

Ethel was sitting eating her dinner, late and alone after her day at the hospital going through dialysis. Her back was to me and I didn’t stop. After all, I’d spent some time with her the previous day. Little Ethel was waiting in the lobby. “I had a feeling you might be coming,” she said with a radiant smile on her face. “I was sitting waiting, hoping you would come. You’ve made my day!” she cooed.

” I’ve brought a few flowers for you,” I replied. “Do you want to put them in your room right away?” She nodded her head, still beaming. You might remember that this lady is one positive thinking lady. She’s always smiling, always trying to find the good in something even if she’s having a difficult day. We took the elevator to the fourth floor, found vases under the sink at the elevator lobby/nurses station and then took her bouquet down to her room. There we had a couple of good hugs and a mid size conversation about inconsequentials.

I always have a reason why I must go. It’s something I learned in dealing with Mom, because the residents think they are so lonely, they want to hold onto everyone they see for as long as they can. Ethel locked her room’s door and walked me to the elevator. Other Ethel was just being brought up to her room. She cried out, “Oh, You’re here!” She shot little Ethel a look of disapproving appraisal just as I said, “I brought you a few flowers. Rick, the night nurse, left them in your room for you.”

“When am I going to see you?” she said, a bit querulously. “Sorry, I don’t have the time to stop now. I’ll see you for dinner next week, remember?” I said, keeping up a cheery tone.

“What day next week,” she shot back with a bit of disbelief in her voice, wanting to pin me down.

“I’m not sure yet. I’ll phone you. Her face had gone from absolutely delighted to see me into something rather down and hurt. The elevator doors closed on Little Ethel and me and that was the end of that.

Once downstairs, I went looking for Dorothy, Little Ethel trailing behind me as if she wanted to know everything that was going on. Dorothy was watching television with Marion, Ruth and a few other friends. I asked her if she could come see me a minute and of course she did. She gave me a hug and we went down to her room which is bigger than what she had before on the fourth floor. I gave her the flowers that seem paltry in comparison to some of the lovely bouquets she already had from her daughter. She was gracious and was so pleased that I had thought of her. Now trailing me into the room was Noreen. Little Ethel was too English to transgress into someone else’s room and was waiting in the hallway, but forgetful Noreen had no such inhibitions.

Noreen was asking me to come see her quilt that she had made herself. She did not back out (or off) when Doreen was attempting to talk to me. Dorothy got me her telephone number so that we could make an arrangement to go to lunch. I looked at it and recognized the number instantly. “I thought you had a private phone,” I said, a little puzzled. “That’s it. It’s my very own number.” she replied.

“It can’t be.” I insisted. This is the office number. I called it all the time to make arrangements for Mother. “No. It’s mine.” she confirmed.

“Let me see the paper you got it from,” I insisted. Sure enough, it was the office number. Just below it was her number. She looked rather sheepish but she could see now that the Residence number was on a line above her own number. We fixed up my piece of paper with the right number and we were done.

Now I went across the hall to see Noreen’s quilt. It was very well made but rather odd in colour and pattern. Blue denim was the fabric tying all the other largish squares together. Rectangles of varying size, I should say, rather. There was no unity to the fabric patterns, no repeated patterns. Just fabric with denim holding it together. It was well sewn and lay flat. The workmanship was good. I praised it and asked “Do you have a sewing machine here?”

“No, I don’t. I just sewed this one together by hand.” I had some doubts. I wondered if she hadn’t done it before she came to the residence and then with her Alzheimer’s disease, had no sense of time, no clear remembrance of how she actually did it. I looked at her strange outfit for this evening. She was wearing jeans with a pair of boxer type shorts over of them. These too were patchwork in unlikely combinations of children’s prints. “Did you make those too?” “Yes”, she beamed.
As we left her room, she saw Dorothy waiting for me. “Have you seem my quilt?” she asked, hoping to have another admirer of her handiwork, proof of her ability to make something valuable. “Many times,” drawled Dorothy. “Many times.”

“Oh!” said Noreen with a puzzled look and went silent.

Now Noreen and Dorothy, and Little Ethel were following me down the hall as if I were the Pied Piper. Ruth came to meet us and we all stopped as I gave Ruth a little hug. (Like my Mother, she is a little shy of hugs as a way of greeting.) I repeated my news; Ruth added a little, and I started forward again, now with Ruth added to the group. Somewhere, they all stopped following. My last stop was in the staff lounge. I promised the night desk nurse as I came in that I would say hello to her as I went out. But now she was on her coffee break with some of the other night staff. We exchanged pleasantries, asking how each of us was, talked about my events of the last six weeks and I said good evening to them all.

This staff dining room is separated from the plenary dining room by a sliding door. There, waiting at the doorway were Dorothy and Little Ethel. Ethel was looking decidedly miffed. Dorothy was looking decidedly officious. “She has to go home to have her supper” announced Little Ethel. “Yes, she has to get home and have supper” repeated Dorothy.

“We can at least walk her to the front door and see her away,” Dorothy said, like a gracious hostess. There was an element of I’m walking her to the door in her voice with a silent but oh so implied and not you.

“Yes, We’ll see her to the door .” replied Ethel, her head held high, with a little stubbornness with an underlying, unstated, implied: “She’s my friend, not yours”.

At the door, when our good byes were said, Ethel stepped out into the fresh night air.

“That one!” she bristles. “She has a habit of taking over, if you know what I mean. She’s ….” She nodded her head up and down gently like a bobble doll. “Well, you know….”

She couldn’t put her finger on the right word.

I gave her an extra kiss and was on my way.


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