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Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Gift for Grandma

Christmas music was playing in the background.  A tall Christmas tree adorned with colorful lights and fine decorations graced the living room next to the fireplace.  Families and friends walked up and down the halls, visiting their loved ones.  It was a wonderful day in the nursing home.  Everybody looked blissful.

“I’m looking for Loraine Smith,” a man stated as he approached the receptionist.

“Beautiful flowers!” the receptionist exclaimed. “We will give them to her.” 

Ms. Smith and a few other residents of the nursing home received flowers for Christmas. Christmas gifts glowed under the magnificent tree. The Christmas party for the residents was to take place that afternoon. 

The residents’ pain and discomfort seem to magically alleviate during the Season, I mused, as I noted the number residents with chronic pain who no longer seemed to complain. 

The celebration and the soothing atmosphere made their aches go away.  Ms. Garner was one of those residents.  She was new to the facility, and although being in a nursing home was not something she wanted, she had adjusted fairly well to her new living arrangements.  Ms. Garner had accepted the fact that her health had deteriorated to the point that her daughter, Lisa, couldn’t take care of her at home. 

Ms. Garner was glad that Lisa came to the facility to visit daily.  But most importantly,  Lisa brought her four year-old little girl, Samantha, with her to see grandma every time.  Ms. Garner loved spending time with the little Samantha.  On a normal day we’d  hear Samantha’s cute voice echoing down the hall:  “Grandma! Grandma!” as she ran toward her room.  Ms. Garner’s face would light up, while she waited for Samantha to run into the room to be snatched up and embraced in a hug.  Ms. Garner had to warn Samantha often about not running down the hall, and to watch out for the wheelchair foot pedals. 

“I don’t want you to trip over the foot pedals”  Ms. Garner repeated often. 

Samantha seemed to care less about the warning.  All she had in mind was seeing her grandma and to tell her about her daily adventures with “Shadow,” her black kitty cat.

“Do you miss Shadow?”  Samantha asked her once. 

“I do.  But I know you are taking good care of him.”  Ms. Garner replied, with a hint of sadness that she gently veiled with a smile.

The Christmas party started.  Ms. Garner seemed content with Lisa and little Samantha sitting next to her.  A choir from a local church sang delightful Christmas carols.  Santa Claus walked around, greeting and hugging everybody which amused Samantha tremendously. That—and the pastries being passed  around on green and red trays which she helped herself to freely. 

“Samantha, you've eaten too many cookies already!”  Lisa exclaimed as she caught her reaching for another treat. 

“Let her have one last cookie; there’s plenty,”  Ms. Garner interceded, hugging little Samantha who had now sat on grandma’s lap. 

The Christmas presents were passed around.  Samantha helped her grandma open her gifts.  Clothing, a bed throw, a set of lotion and perfume, and a stuffed animal were piled on a chair as Samantha ripped off another shiny gift wrap. 

The Christmas party was over.  Lisa and little Samantha were getting ready to leave. 

“Samantha, aren’t you forgetting about a present you brought for grandma?”  Lisa asked with an intriguing look, arching her left eyebrow.

“Huh?” Samantha looked, puzzled. 

“Look in your pocket,” she reminded her.

“Oh!” Samantha exclaimed loudly, as she dug in her winter coat and produced a black dusty rock, almost of the size of her fist. 

“Grandma, this is for you!”

“Ah, a rock!” 

“No, grandma, it’s a pet rock, Shadow’s brother!”  Samantha placed the rock in Ms. Garner’s shaky hand.  Her gentle fingers, afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis, embraced the rock with tenderness and love. 

“Thank you, my darling...”  Tears rolled down her face. “This is the most precious Christmas gift I’ve ever received!”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Forever Elvis

I heard music playing as I was walking down the East hall.  I stopped for a moment to listen.

♫ Why can't you see
What you're doin' to me
When you don't believe a word I say?

We can't go on together
With suspicious minds ♫

 Elvis!  I thought, as I opened my eyes widely.

“Where is the music coming from?” I asked Julia, a nurse assistant who was walking by.

“From Ms. Reid’s room,” Julia replied.  “She loves Elvis.”

“I like Elvis too!” I exclaimed, grinning. 

The music was captivating. It carried Elvis’ delightful voice through the air, a wisp one does not want to miss.   

I can’t just walk by!  I relented as I turned around, and headed directly toward Ms. Reid’s room.

Except for Elvis’ crooning, Ms. Reid’s room was a place of solace, decorated with Elvis pictures and ornaments.  A large CD player sat on her bedside table.  Ms. Reid was sitting in her recliner, staring at the ceiling, apparently captivated by a daydream. 

As I quietly approached Ms. Reid I caught her attention, briefly.  Her Alzheimer’s dementia had advanced to the point that she often had difficulty communicating with others and couldn’t focus most of the time. 

Except when she heard one word: Elvis.

“I see you like Elvis,”  I commented.

“Uh?” she murmured, looking at me with some apprehension.  I felt like an intruder who had just disturbed her pleasant thoughts.  Elvis broke into another song.

“That’s a beautiful song,”  I said.

Ms. Reid’s smile returned. 

“Can you show me the Elvis book you have there?”  I pointed toward a large book that she had laid on her table.  A magnificent photo of Elvis graced the cover.

“Yes!”  She eagerly replied.

I handled the book to her. Her delicate hands held it in such a way that it was obvious the book was one of her most treasured possessions.  She started to flip through the thick pages.

Ms. Reid had very few words to express, but her eager eyes and her smile told her story.  Somehow, Elvis’ songs rekindled in her warm memories of loving and charming times of her past.  

I noticed the book contained information and pictures.  At the end of the book, right before Ms. Reid closed it, I became intrigued by a small detail I spied. I noticed that the last two or three pages of the book had been ripped out.  Ms. Reid seemed unaware of it.  I frowned, and promptly switched my focus to her bright blue eyes staring at me.  I smiled and encouraged further conversation about other items in the room. She had a tote with Elvis’ photo imprinted on it.  An Elvis poster adorned a wall. 

I left Ms. Reid in good spirit.  And so was I, except for my curiosity about the missing pages of the book. 

Months later, I thought of Ms. Reid when my husband and I spent a weekend in Memphis.  We visited Graceland, Elvis’ home.

It was a magnificent tour.  I felt vibrant while walking throughout Elvis’ home, looking at his fancy suits, his photos, his awards.

His soul was there. His talent was still alive. 

The “Meditation Garden” was the last stop on the tour. That was Elvis’ grave.  A feeling of emptiness embraced me.  I turned around and left the area quickly. 

After returning from my trip, I happened to meet Ms. Reid’s daughter at the nursing home. I enjoyed telling her that I had thought of her mother during my visit to Graceland.

“Her obsession with Elvis is really something new,” her daughter said.  “One day she suddenly became an Elvis fan.” 

“It seems to make her happy.” I replied. 

“Definitely,” her daughter exclaimed.  “She can get very agitated sometimes and Elvis’ music calms her down.”

“I’ve seen that,” I expressed. “I am glad it works out that way, but I have what may seem to be a curious question. I noticed that the last two or three pages of her Elvis book are missing.”

“Oh!” her daughter exclaimed and laughed.  “My mother doesn’t know Elvis is dead. We don’t want her to know. So we tore off the pages that referred to his death and burial site.”

Of course! I realized, open-mouthed. I recalled the sadness that struck me at the Meditation Garden. 

“It makes perfect sense!” I said, as I shook my head.