We were neighbors. We did what neighbors do. Going to see Christmas lights, baking brownies for each other, helping lay a new rug, sharing flowers for our yards, admiring new furniture or a new sunporch, they were childless so they dog-sat for us, we were pleased with having each other for neighbors. I especially liked her, a little tiny petite woman in her eighties who had been through a double mastectomy and had stents in her liver and heart and was on coumadin but who kept right on living. You couldn’t help but admire her.
Then my husband died and and I sold my house and kissed her goodbye with promises to visit often. Which I did. But I could see her decline. She would try to hold a conversation but it was frustrating for her because, although she knew what she wanted to say, she couldn’t find the words. After a while she grew really thin. Painfully so. You could see her blue veins throbbing under her increasingly transparent skin.
Her husband got an aide for her who brought her here to see me and my new digs. Many hugs and glasses of iced tea, just like in the old days. I talked to her husband and he was relieved that he had hired the aide for a few hours a day as he was nearing 90 and couldn’t take care of her the way he wanted her cared for. We joked that she couldn’t see and he couldn’t hear. Her eyes were bad and his ears were bad. But still things didn’t seem too desperate.
Then I went out to visit and there was a chart on the kitchen wall telling what hours the visiting nurse would be there. He told me that she was getting confused and having trouble breathing and didn’t want to bathe and wanted to go around naked so he had had to hire professional help. He was worried that he might have to have 24-7 nursing care if she got any worse.
Then I heard she fell and had to be put in a nursing home. So of course I went out to see her.
She was slumped in a chair in a flannel outfit she would not have been caught dead in before – she had been a sharp dresser all her life. She was a living skeleton, blind from her macular degeneration, and all she could say was ba ba ba. She was completely gone. Yet still her damaged heart beat on.
He just looked exhausted. He told me that he was broke. That all he had to live on now was his Social Security. They had lost everything they had worked for. He had had to sign over his house to get 24 hour care for her when she was still at home. Oh, he could stay in the house as long as he was able to, but it wasn’t his anymore. He had had to sell all his stocks and bonds when she went into the nursing home. He could no longer drive and had had to sell his car to help with the bills anyway. Something was wrong with his hands, he couldn’t use his tools anymore. He had kept one of the aides he had hired for her, just to make meals for him and keep the house somewhat clean. Just for a couple hours a day. When his time came to be in a nursing home, he would have to go in on Medicaid. Which probably meant a second-class place. Not only that, but since he had lost his house and all his money, both of them would have to be cremated because there was no money for a decent burial. I hugged him hard but my heart was heavy. He had always been upbeat and cheerful, he wasn’t a complainer, but I could see that he was having trouble coping. I wondered how long he could hold on.
Driving home, I thought about how hard I was trying to hold onto my money, how I budgeted, how I passed up clothes I liked and too much eating out or anything else I enjoyed so that I could keep my money. It suddenly seemed silly to me. I needed a new computer and a new mattress and some updated clothes – heck, I was going to go out and get all that I needed or wanted. Because if I wound up living too long and had to be in a nursing home, nothing would be left for my kids anyway.
I have seen what happens when you live too long.
© 2012 Just Lynne - 3/30/12