“It’s all over the news!” Ms. Dempsey exclaimed, cradling her head in her hands with propped elbows resting on the dining room table. “My daughter is dead!” Ms. Dempsey broke down in tears.
“She refused to eat her breakfast,” Nurse Cecilia said, as I entered the dining room.
“Ms. Dempsey, do you want to drink your orange juice?” I offered, hoping that she would calm down.
“No. I don’t want anything.” Ms. Dempsey saddened voice and tearfulness began to attract the other residents’ attention.
I decided to wheel Ms. Dempsey to her room for more privacy.
“Ms. Dempsey, what’s going on?”
“Don’t you know? It’s all over the news.” She pointed at the television over her dresser. “My daughter Laura is dead!”
The news sent a chill down my spine. It was Monday, usually my busy day to catch up with weekend events which occurred in the nursing home in my absence.
I wondered why no one had mentioned Ms. Dempsey’s daughter’s death? Where is the family?
I told myself to calm down and think rationally.
“Ms. Dempsey, have you talked to anyone in your family?”
“My son was here, but he left.”
The son left? Why would he leave, not telling anyone of the death? I was certainly confused.
“My daughter has had problems with her husband,” Ms. Dempsey began. “They argue all the time, and her heart was too weak. I think she...“ Ms. Dempsey’s words trailed and she gasped for air. She started sobbing inconsolably. I hugged her, feeling with my lack of information to relate to her seeming despairing situation.
I attempted to ask further questions, but Ms. Dempsey didn’t seem to listen. She continued narrating family events involving conflicts and her belief she made erroneous decisions in response to these particular situations.
I listened for about half an hour. My quiet listening seemed to help tranquilize her, at least for those moments. Then she buried her face in her hands again and started to cry.
“Ms. Dempsey, I am going to call your family,” I said.
“I don’t think it will do any good,” she said, continuing to sob.
Nurse Cecilia came in with a box of Kleenex and a glass of water for Ms. Dempsey. Taking them, she gently dried her eyes, and then took a generous sip of water. She seemed somewhat comforted.
While Nurse Cecilia assisted Ms. Dempsey, I rushed to the nurse’s station and looked up the emergency contact information in Ms. Dempsey chart. I reached for a cordless phone and rushed back to her room.
I punched in Laura’s phone number, wondering if the daughter she believed to be dead would answer. My heart pounded.
The phone rang three times, but to me felt as though it were forty.
“Hello?” A woman answered.
“Laura?” I forgot all etiquette for business phone calls, failing to identify myself, the company, and the reason for the urgency of my call. It was as if my instincts had taken control over all my rationality. I just wanted to hear Ms. Dempsey’s daughter’s voice, and to know that nothing had happened to her.
That “yes” sounded magical to me. Like a miracle had occurred. The feeling of relief embraced me.
“Laura, this is Doris, social worker. I’m here with your mom, and she would like to talk with you.”
Ms. Dempsey’s eyes opened widely. She looked puzzled. Then she sighed and tilted her head up, flashing a half smile.
“Laura is okay!” Ms. Dempsey exclaimed, in a whisper.
“Yes, she is okay,” I said as I handed her the phone receiver.
Ms. Dempsey clasped the phone to her ear. She cleared her throat, and with serene voice, she said, “Laura? Honey, I had a bad dream...”