The Cave Thrown Open?

easter lilyNoontime on Mondays I would go to the nursing home to help feed my husband’s aunt. She couldn’t move her arms – or wouldn’t. Couldn’t speak – or wouldn’t. She had not taken a single step since she had first come to this place after breaking her hip some six years before. Her caregivers said she uttered a chance phrase from time to time, “pretty good,” or “yes indeed,” emerging clear as clear from the depths of her silence. Mostly though, she regarded us all with a dull and lifeless gaze.

In the beginning she had talked a little.  “The years are passing so quickly!” she said once out of the blue. And “Eddie is so good to me.” And, one day, “You look exhausted!” 

Back then, a look of animation would flash over her face when I first arrived. She would smile and color would mount to her cheeks and I would begin talking and talking, hoping to keep her there. It never worked. Within moments she was gone again, far away and alone. Our communication remained focused on the simple ceremony of feeding.

“What should I do after she eats?” I asked Uncle Ed once. “Where she won’t talk, I mean?” 

“Just sit with her,” he said. “Just hold her hand.”

So I did that, and watched what went on around us.

Mostly I watched Edna, tall and big-boned, with wispy hair.

“Girl! What time is it, Girl?” she asked me once. “That poor soul,” she added, indicating another with a nod of her head. “She’s touched, you know!”

I liked Edna. “I’m goin’ out for a smoke! Where’s my bag?” she would say, just as if she could walk on out whenever she liked. She carried that small black purse with her everywhere. Once I saw her bring it to the dining room and put it in the trash. Later in the meal she became agitated. “Where’s my tea?“ she kept saying.

“Right here,” said her helper.

“No! My TEA! ” she exclaimed, looking now under the table.

“Is this it?” I asked, going to the trash and fetching forth her purse.


 Later, she spilled her actual tea and saw the erratic shape the spill made on the tiles. “Girl!” She hailed me. “There’s a chicken on the floor here!”

 In time, Edna fell permanently quiet, as sooner or later they all fall quiet on this ward. When she died, I cut out her obituary. I have it still.

It took almost ten years before Auntie Fran died. By then she had long stopped wrinkling her nose as she once did when I would bend to kiss her and my hair would tickle her face and she had gotten so she would hardly eat.

I stopped worrying what to say to her when I came on Mondays.

 And I got to wondering if she were in there at all, until two things happened in a one-month period.

 Once, when I did not briskly pull up and away at embrace’s end but stayed there, my cheek against her cheek, she made that little sound people make when you kiss them and they like it. And another time – it was in this same month of new beginnings that we are now in – I brought her an Easter lily when she was already in bed, blue eyes on the ceiling. I tipped the plant until it was nearly horizontal, and the soft chalice of its blossom dipped toward her face. 

She shut her eyes and inhaled deeply.

She was in there all right, and to this day I am still so glad I was able to reach her there just that one time, deep in her cave and waiting for the great Transformation.








5 thoughts on “The Cave Thrown Open?

  1. Beautiful, Terry. If you do nothing nice for the rest of your time in this dimension you surely have a “pass” thru the Pearly Gates based on this story alone. Happy Easter!

  2. Terry, this brought memories for me, too, of my visits to my mother who had rare moments of being “here”, wouldn’t eat and barely spoke. During my visits, I stopped to talk with others who I knew never got visitors and that was for them and for me a really good experience. One woman, so sweet, stuck in her wheel chair but would play the piano on movie day, engaged in a fantasy with me about fairies dancing in the cemetery within view of her window. We were going to go out there one moonlit night and I would help her “dance” in her wheelchair. She loved it. And so did I. We never got to go out and she passed just one week before her 100th birthday – four years ago and I still miss her. Thank you for sharing such a sweet story.

  3. Very nice piece Terry, though heart-wrenching. There are so many fears about medical issues anymore – please let there one day be a cure for some, if not all of them. A friend of the family who lived across the street from us lost her husband to cancer, and we always knew if he went first, that she might as well join him. Within months, you could not have a conversation with her because she didn’t know who you were. She was my mom’s best friend and we drove up in our driveway one day, saw her out tending to her flowers (or I should say, standing there with an empty watering can, and obviously clearly confused, not sure what the can’s purpose was). My mom waived “hi Ann” and she looked at my mom and said “who the hell are you?” … I don’t think she swore in her life up to that point, and while “hell” certainly isn’t vulgar, it sure wasn’t characteristic for her either. Broke my heart to be outside working in the yard, and she’d call me over to ask me what day it was … more than once within the course of an hour. She had to be committed to a nursing home within six months of her husband’s death and passed away shortly thereafter. So very sad.

  4. Sometimes all it takes is holding hands. Hugs and kisses mean so much too. Human contact. You did fine. I used to sit with a 100 year old gentleman. He told me all his stories over and over again. I brought a book of old songs, and that really perked him up. If I didn’t know the tunes, he would sing them. I brought him a ready made chicken pot pie for dinner one evening. “Chicken! Tastes like rooster!” Last time for that. Now every time Sul and I have chicken pot pie, we say that whether it does or not. He lived to102, and gradually couldn’t eat anymore either. They are such loves. It still makes me smile thinking of him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s