Friday, October 25, 2013

Nothing More I Can Do: Chapter Two of Watching And Thinking About Blueberries

Last week, as Rick went outside to grab the mail and a package off of our front porch, I looked again across the street at another front porch.  The rug on it was folded over, and I could see the FedEx envelope still lying against the front door.  It had been there for four days.

"Rick, it's still there.  I don't get it.  Why hasn't Sue Ellen gotten it?  She's all over everything else over there. She's out on her porch every day.  How can she not see it?  She knows the son.  Why doesn't she at least take it in?"

"I don't know, Nance.  The yard guys should be over there soon.  Look at the bushes.  Maybe they'll see it and call.  Or give it to Sue Ellen."

"But, Rick!  I hate this.  I hate... the whole thing."

My husband looked at me with an all-too-familiar mix of sympathy and amusement.  "I know you do.  But there's nothing we can do.  There's just nothing."

It was always the same when we talked about Tish, our absent across-the-street neighbor.  Frustration, anger, sorrow, and a little fear wrested any real control from me.  I had no intellectual or rational reserves to bring to the discussion; all I had was raw emotion.  I barely knew her.  I never even called her by her first name!  And it's least two, maybe three years since I last saw her.

You met her in 2009 when I wrote this post.  Tish had left her home, but kept driving over for long visits inside.  I wondered what she did in there.  Did she look at old photos of her and Barrington in their youth?  Did she make a light meal in her kitchen, which looked out over her green yard with its clutches of daylilies?  Or, did she perhaps simply lie in the bed they once shared for decades and take a nap, holding his robe or maybe one of his fine, tailored shirts?  I never, ever knew.

Part of the mystery was solved one day when Rick and I saw her at the drugstore.  We were so stunned that we almost didn't say hello.  I found myself so overcome that I could barely speak.  We greeted her warmly and told her we missed her living in our neighborhood very much.

"Oh, aren't you lovely for saying so!"  Tish said, smiling.  "Well, you know I'm out at Wells Glen now.  Yes, it's so nice!  I still have my car, of course, so a lot of the others who don't, often ask me to pick up a few things for them when they hear I'm going out. Now I don't want you to worry.  I won't be selling the house. Not until I die!"

We said something appropriate, and then Tish said she had to run.  People at Wells Glen were expecting their things, so she had to get going.  We exchanged warm goodbyes, and we went our separate ways.

Several mysteries were solved in that one chance meeting about two years ago.  Tish was fine and still driving.  She was living in one of the local elder communities which offered varied levels of assistance, from small cottages for independent living to Alzheimer units with full hospital staffing.  And her house would remain her house until the day she died.  Perhaps it was just too big for her with too many steps.  Many of the homes in our neighborhood are colonials with laundry facilities in the basement and bathrooms upstairs.

It wasn't long after that when I noticed that Tish's big silver Buick no longer came to her home.  Many months later, her son paid a few visits to the house.  Sue Ellen next door hurried over each time.  The conversations were brief.  On one visit, he took from his car a roll of silver duct tape.  Quickly, he taped Tish's mailbox shut.

One morning about six weeks ago, I called Rick at work.  I felt stupid for doing it, but if I didn't tell someone, I felt as if I couldn't breathe anymore.  He picked up right away, of course.  "Rick, I'm sorry to call you at work, and I feel ridiculous for doing it.  But a moving van just pulled up into Tish's driveway.  Oh, Rick.  It's a moving van."

There was nothing I could do.  There was just nothing.  Nothing except refuse to watch a funereal and gauche public procession of all of Tish and Barrington Cash's worldly goods go out the front door of their house.  I went out to the kitchen, swept and mopped the floor, and then moved on to do other things in the back of the house, crying a little and trying to understand exactly why.

Was I crying because I remembered what Tish said about when she'd sell her house?  Was I crying because I was angry?  Was I crying out of frustration?  And if it was that, was I frustrated because I had no answers, or was it because I couldn't do anything?  I just didn't know, and it made me feel worse.

Rick and I kept a sort of awful vigil, looking for her obituary.  Tish was a prominent lady; it would be in the town paper as well as probably the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  We would want to send something.  It never appeared.  And now, this FedEx envelope.  But there was nothing I could do.

Until the one morning I backed out of my driveway and up into Tish's.  Calm and resolute, I got out of my car and walked up onto her porch.  I took the FedEx envelope, which was addressed to her and marked URGENT, and got back into my car.  Within a few minutes I was at Wells Glen.

The complex is quite large, and it looks like a nice hotel.  I found the main entrance, parked, and sat for a moment in order to compose myself for what I was likely to hear.  When I felt calm, I walked in through the front doors.

The woman at the front desk saw me approaching and smiled kindly.  "May I help you?" she asked.

"Yes.  Tish Cash used to live across the street from me.  This FedEx envelope was left on her doorstep several days ago--"

Here, the woman interrupted me.  "Awww," she said, in the way that someone says it  right before they say the words that's too bad.  "I'll see that her son gets it."

I was quite taken aback.  What did that mean?  "Thank you very much," I said.  The woman looked at me pityingly.  She put the envelope on her desk and looked back at me, clearly considering the matter ended.  "I'm sorry," I said, "but, Tish...she is still a resident here, isn't she?"

The woman looked at the nurse next to her, then back at me.  Her face dissolved again into the same sorrow-tinged, pitying look.  "Yes," she said quietly, "she's still here."

I nodded and walked back out to my car.  There was nothing else I could do.



  1. So many associations here. I went back and read your first post about Tish and she reminded me very much of my own mother, who was widowed, picked up the pieces, and lived a very full and busy life for 13 years before meeting her husband and marrying for the 2nd time at age 70. (I should probably mention that #2 is 6 months younger than she is and that she refers to him as her 'boy toy' - if that gives you any clue to her personality.)Dementia (in all of its forms) seems to me to be such a sad thing - someone is there but not there. Hard for friends, even harder for family. So sad, and so sorry. Even if she wasn't a close friend, she is still someone who was part of your life for many years.I know you'll always think of her at blueberry time from now on, though. And that, at least, is a sweet memory.

  2. Anonymous10:01 AM

    Very touching story...and well told.

  3. Heartwrenching. Lovely writing, but heartwrenching. Sigh.

    I've had a couple of friends slide into dementia in recent years. It's tough for everyone involved, from close family to casual acquaintance.


  4. Nance,

    This reminds me of the story of the man whose wife was in a Nursing home suffering from dementia.

    Her husband went to visit her every day. One day someone asked him why he went every day when she didn't even know who he was.

    He smiled and said, That's true, she doesn't know me, but I know HER."

    So, now we all have to hope and pray that Tish's children have that same kind of love for their Mother that this man displayed for his wife.

  5. Ms. Caroline--I don't know that Tish has Alzheimer's or if she is seriously ill, or what. I guess it's the most likely scenario.

    I thought some more about the whole situation, and I think I'm also angry about the unfairness of it all. She was a nice person, from all I could tell. She deserved to continue on in her home and have a nice life; she earned it. I know fairness isn't a steady component in life. But this is just so wrong.

    Jill Meyer--Thank you. And thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

    The Bug--Thank you. It's a very poignant situation.

    Nancy--So true. I have this talk with Rick all the time. My uncle went faithfully to the Home to visit his wife who had dementia. She had no idea who he was, but he didn't care. He had always adored her. He still only wears the sweaters that she knitted for him.

    I tell Rick that, should that ever be me, I don't want him to come. And not the boys, either, ever. It's too painful, and since I wouldn't know one way or the other, just let me fade away without causing them all the hurt and sadness. Truly.

    He says, "Nance. If it were me in there, would you come? I say, "Of course! I'd be there every single day!"

    He says, "Then how can you ask me to stay away?"

    It's a terrible two-edged sword, as they say. I fervently hope that I never have to unsheathe it.

  6. My grandma has dementia, and we think she still knows my dad, but no one else. I still go and visit when I'm in Portland. She doesn't know who I am, and she doesn't remember the visit, but she's cheerful and glad while I'm there. She enjoys the chocolates I bring and sitting in the sunshine while my dad rubs her shoulders. So it's for me, as I will remember, but it's also for her. She still gets joy from our visits, even if it's different from the joy of when she was younger and knew who I was.

    One of my meals-on-wheels women is in the hospital right now. I am NOT happy. I haven't called yet to see how she is. I don't know what to say. But I'm worried, and I should call tomorrow...

  7. I just went and read your old story. It reminded me of my meals on wheels woman, Trudy. She is who I hope to be someday. She's 98, and still lives alone. She's amazing. She goes to exercise class, she goes to lunch, she has family and friend close by. She's amazing. I hope she's OK.

  8. J@jj--I always want everyone to be your meals-on-wheels lady. Strong, resilient, independent, at home and very OK. I guess because that is what I want to be, should I be the one left alone, on my own. I guess I need to see that it's possible.

    I'm not really afraid of growing old. I am, however, terribly afraid of losing myself, my intellect, It was bad enough when I was very ill several years ago, and I had to rely heavily on my family. It was awful to be dependent and not myself. And I knew it was temporary. It was so humbling.

    Your point about it bringing joy to your grandmother regardless of her knowing the bringer is important. And I know that, on some level.

    Sigh. The years do go by much faster as we age. Everyone who warned me of that phenomenon did not lie.

  9. We are currently dealing with my 93 and 96 year old grandparents who insist on living alone.

    Problem is, they no longer drive and the closest family is about 45 minutes away.

    But they don't want to go to assisted living, and have fought all attempts to try and get them in there.

    It's so hard when you have to try to balance the wants of the elderly in question with what is safest and best for them.

    Actually that didn't have anything to do with your neighbor, I hope things are ok with her.

  10. Gina--It has everything to do with the story about my neighbor. Every writer hopes that his/her writing will strike a chord within the reader's own experience. So, thank you.

    I sympathize with both your family and your grandparents. I remember the very same scenario with my husband's grandparents, although they were much younger. It was heartbreaking for everyone when they finally agreed to go into a facility, which was really a lovely place. Of course, it was not their own home, and they really mourned the loss of their autonomy. We visited often, and it was upsetting to hear them talk about how they couldn't do whatever they wanted, have fresh fruits of their choice whenever they wanted unless someone brought them, etc. All small things that we take for granted. But the tradeoff--round the clock nursing care for Grandpa, who was a multiple stroke victim--was huge.

    I really actively hate The Big Decisions in grownup life. They all seem so momentous, so monumental. They wear me out.

  11. The prospect of losing our mental faculties in old age is so terrifying. I have the exact same sentiments as you, but in the end, I also agree with Rick: however crushing it is that your life partner no longer knows who you are, you would still "be there every day." Even if there was not a speck of a chance that they might ever recognize you again. I think you would still live with that hope, and as Nancy said in her story of a husband whose wife had dementia, "She doesn't know me, but I know HER." To that I would add: I KNEW her.

    On a totally different tangent:
    I LOVE the newest "new look" of the blog: it's clean, crisp, easy to read, and, overall, looks perfectly balanced in terms of colour, fonts and layout. Kudos to you, blog guru! You design as keenly as you write. :-)

  12. Ortizzle--Sigh. I know; it's so difficult to balance what you/I want with what the family/spouse wants. I think it's terribly important for the individual to have a say--after all, it is he/she who is going to be the one whose life is up for discussion, but who will, in the end, have the least to say about it. Decisions should be made now, when the intellect is clear and careful thought can be given. On the other hand, it's the spouse and children and/or family who will be "left behind" and have, in some ways, the most at stake. How will they feel, knowing their parent is close by, but they cannot even go to visit? I guess the absolution leaves it up to them: If it is upsetting and more obligation than pleasure, please don't come.

    Thank you for the kind words regarding my latest blog design. Despite what some may suppose, I do honestly listen to advice and opinions, do my best to learn, and try to see if I can implement ideas. I still don't care for sans serif fonts, but understand that they are more readable. I hesitated at the three wineglasses for the background because I didn't want it to be irritating, like you were seeing in double vision. So far, I like it.

    You, as always, are a big help. I would be embarrassed, however, to tell you exactly how long it took me to get it just right. Good thing I'm retired!


  13. Well, Nance, however long it took to redesign your latest blog look, it was WORTH IT!

  14. Nancy--Thank you! My time is pretty cheap these days, but I still don't like to waste it. Glad you like the design.

    Blogger, despite a few frustrations here and there, has actually made it rather simple to redesign the look of a blog. I'm the one who is so picky and has to customize everything. I wish there was a way to save templates entirely so that I didn't have to recreate them over and over. Probably there is; I just haven't investigated enough. That way, I could recycle them more easily and change it up more often without going through so much effort.

  15. In your reply to Ortizzle, you said, "I guess the absolution leaves it up to them: If it is upsetting and more obligation than pleasure, please don't come.", which seemed so kind and understanding to me. It's sometimes very hard.

    My BFF's grandmother recently had a stroke, which has brought my BFF and her brother from the East Coast out to CA. While here, they are faced with the idea of visiting their mother, who is pretty much insane and institutionalized (is there a nice way to say that? I don't know). They have very different ideas on visiting. BFF says, of course we visit. She is alone in that place, and she has the right to see her children. Brother says, It's too depressing, the last time I went she remembered my friend, but didn't know who I was. What to do in such a situation? If it were my mom, I would bully my brother into visiting, no matter what his feelings. Wrong? Maybe.

  16. Hey, Nance!
    I find your new blog design so much easier on the eyes (because it's brighter is my guess).

    More importantly, I feel so bad about Tish and about your experience. What really irks me - and I understand it on some level - that retirement communities, nursing homes, and the like never release information about their residents due to privacy restrictions. Those in my mother's adult living community - it was not a nursing home - would, seemingly, "disappear" and the front office never released info regarding their passing or move to an assisted living or nursing home community. My mother and her peers would see an empty seat at one of the tables in their gorgeous dining room and just muse about what might have happened to "Corrine" or "Jim." I found it so maddening that adults were treated as though they hadn't the right to know what had happened to their "neighbors." When Mother passed away last year, I stopped and visited her friends wherever they were gathered for coffee or activities and told them about Mother having passed away during the wee hours. They hugged me as I cried, and I hugged them. I was standing in my mother's neighborhood, and these good people had been her neighbors for seven years. YOU were Tish's neighbor; you deserve to know what has happened to her.

  17. BooksterOne--So good to see you! Where did summer go? We need to get together again. Let's go out for bloody marys.

    I know just what you mean. The health privacy laws are important, but they carry that double-edged sword, too. Certainly, in your case, you could have been asked if it was all right with you to release the information about your mother's death to the residents. Your mom lived there long enough to make lots of friends among residents and staff as well. I'm sorry.

    In my case it's quite a bit different, I think. We were neighbors, but as I said in Part I of Tish's story, we were cordial. There was no real relationship there other than pleasant neighborliness. I can safely say that she didn't even remember my first name.

    I will take up the point that adults in their elderly years seem to be infantilized to such a maddening degree, whether they are in a nursing home, retirement community, or living at home. It drives me batshit crazy when people treat my 83-year old mother like she's feeble and a child in my presence, or they talk to me instead of her ABOUT her, and she's right there. I think that sort of behavior contributes to dementia and memory loss. My mother is very much in possession of her mental faculties, and she needs/wants to stay engaged.

    Again, I think we need to get together for a nice chat. Let's plan it for very soon! I miss you.

    J@jj--I guess there is no gentle or kind way to say that someone is institutionalized for insanity. It's a pretty loaded word. I'm sorry for your friend and her brother.

    If I were the BFF, I'd let the brother off the hook. Why put him through that? What purpose does it serve in the big picture? That he marks off an item on a Big List someplace? If BFF gets satisfaction and fulfillment from a visit, then she should go. It is a Good Thing for her. That doesn't then give her the right to decide that it's a Good Thing for anyone else. Assuming they're both adults, they can make which ever choice works for them.

    Resentment can ruin good memories.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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