Darn it, Mary. You weren’t supposed to worm your way into my heart like you did.
I’m not talking about my Mary. Of course my own daughter is firmly entrenched there. I’m talking about nursing home Mary. I-can-do-it Mary. I-love-you Mary.
My father had pointed her out to me a while ago.
“See that woman,” he said, nodding towards her. “She always kisses me.”
Sure enough, she wheeled herself over to my father and took his hand.
“I llllove you,” she had said, carefully pronouncing each word and leaving a space between them.
My father patiently waited while she held his hand and said these words. Then, she started to sing, “I can do it. I can do it.” I think there may have been a few more lyrics, but those were the main ones. On repeat. Accompanied by an elderly fist pump. For emphasis.
Only one hand could fist pump, though. The other was curled in tetany.
“She had a stroke, I think,” my father told me one day after the hand-kissing ritual.
I would see her around when I went to visit my mother.
“I love you,” she always said. I could tell that the letter “L” took special effort on her part.
“I can do it,” she always said, too. Sometimes she sang out those words to a tune that only she knew.
Sometimes, though, she would come very near and cradle another person’s face in her hand, her one good hand, look them in the eye, and say, “Say, ‘I can do it.'” She would repeat it until the other person echoed the words. Then she would reward them with “I love you.”
I watched her go through the dining area one day and get every single resident to say “I can do it.” It was remarkable.
“I can do it,” she said. “I love you.”
Last week, I heard Mary say something different. She said, “No.”
The man serving dinner asked if she wanted a meatball sub.
She gave an emphatic no. I didn’t blame her. The food was pathetic.
But she refused all the food she was offered. She indicated that she wanted something in her cup. It was already filled with milk. An aide got out the chocolate syrup.
“NO,” she responded, covering the cup with her hand.
The aide got her a straw and got the same response.
Finally, Mary wheeled herself away never getting whatever it was she wanted. It must be so hard to communicate with only the words “I can do it,” “I love you,” and “No.”
And I never heard her say the first two at all that night.
Last night, she sat at the dinner counter looking so sad. Again she refused all food with a much weaker “no” before wheeling herself away. I watched her putter down the hall and wished I could help.
A few minutes later a nurse was calling for help. For Mary. She was in distress. The nurse asked someone to call the ambulance.
“No,” Mary said.
The she spoke progressively louder — “No. NO. NO.”
I wanted so badly to hear her say, “I can do it.”
I wanted her to tell somebody, “I love you.”
They got her chart out. “No hospitalization” was noted there. The ambulance was cancelled. Mary was wheeled to her room.
Today I can’t stop thinking about her.
I stood outside her door before we left, but there was too much bustling going on inside, and, really, I don’t know her.
You can do it, Mary.
I love you.