“The Loved One”

 

This is a simple tale, recalled in a very complicated manner. Herein are versions of the truth, each from a party either witness to, or involved in the incidents depicted. It is not the narrator’s intent to have you piece together a moral judgment (however secretly he might wish that you do so), since that would be impossible based on how drastically the tales differ, according to who is telling their version of the tale.

That is to say, what was perceived as real is not necessarily true. We know that deception doesn't enter the equation, since the participating persons would all claim to be innocent and are totally oblivious that their deepest heartfelt intentions make them guilty. It is not about choosing a version of the incident you believe is true, it is about human perspective and how it shapes what we see. Even if we truly believe what we have seen is true, is it really? We begin:

A season ends, another begins. For the first time in months, the large open windows are closed at night and curtains drawn to keep in the warmth of this drafty old farmhouse. Charlie Dog now sleeps on top of the bed that has the electric blanket, and does not remember his cooling summer place near the windows curled up on the wide-spaced and breezy old pine floors. The usual flowing rush of the Green River near the front door is quiet for some reason, and in that stillness, we see and can almost hear bright yellow leaves fall straight down on the sweeps of soft green grass surrounding our sanctuary.

Summer and autumn fell away this year, swift and certain. One day, the Queen Anne’s Lace and pale blue roadside chicory went missing. Waves of head-high golden rod bent low, and died. The maples turned, and their bountiful canopies dropped off, fluttering down with every breeze. The bare grids of forests and woods seemed too early.

An advancing chill rose from the marsh to still its steamy warmth and the anarchy of its murmuring sound. Beneath the tremulous brilliant colors of dying leaves and brocade hills, our wild deer seem unafraid, as they poised at the end of the marsh, slowly leading the young ones through grazing to drink at the pond and hide in matted beds buried in the thickets.

Crickets were silent and the moonlit lawns sparkled in the frosty nights. The morning glories in clustered beauty, withered, their heart-shaped leaves and tendril energies have became still. Something dark, opaque, and leaden has stopped the cadence of summertime. And as always this time of year, brilliant light makes everything perfectly clear in relief and passing, an obvious certainty. The lush valley and wooded hills cradling and surrounding our old New England village—-wait, but not with the usual expectations, nor with the ease that ’things’ are right, or that the Almanac might for first time in generations, miss its phases of knowing.

Recently, at a late hour, there came a gentle knocking at the door. The farmhouse was closed up, silent and dark, reverberating the beckoning presence below. Charlie Dog barely stirred, asleep in memories of chew-treats and early-day squirrel chasing.

There was Anna, Hain’s upstairs neighbor. Lovely by any standard, she looked beautiful standing in the cold air, her first visit ever to the farmhouse. True to her best instincts, Anna stepped forward with a long held embrace and said, “I just want you to know, I love you.” She had been weeping. That was it—-simple and moving:  a haiku in the moonlight. As she left, it was clear that at least someone else ‘knew', and Anna’s elegant gesture was a passionate affirmation having to do with Hain.

As she drove away, I remembered the grace of wild deer who pause, look up, and emit no fear as they move, so very alive in the motion of passage. We will think of Anna that way now. It was one of those existential pleasures of the perfect moment that Hain inspired in others, and often brought to bear wherever she went.

*********

It was at the draw of three angry fearful, terrible years that Hain returned home for good, for peace, and closure. Although even then, another far-away clinic, and ‘experimental’ protocol, offered it’s blank hope for the possible good of others at a last sacrifice of herself. Her journey through the ravages of cancer, from stunned beginning to final days, is the epic of a million women, each unique, each beautiful and powerful in the living.

Hain was not a ‘survivor’ or a ‘case'. She hated those terms, and had good reason. When told for the first time at Sloan Kettering by a chilly doctor that her breasts had to be removed, she went into shock and began yelling. As the tears and fear mounted, Dr. Dolittle called security to have her removed from the hospital. 'Do no harm' Dolittle set the tone of Hain’s struggles in a system of protocols too often indifferent to the essence of life, while counter-intuitively passionate in its continuity. By the time she finally found medical haven and the healing she needed, it was too late. Hain’s fury at events was ongoing, and the anger volatile, when one bungled treatment after the other left her too weak to fight infections and terribly disfigured ('mutilated’, as she would so often say). The 'Kubler Ross’ stages and all that meant squat to the terror.

This story is about those who loved Hain, about those who came far and wide to share her last days and moments. Some of it is transcendent, particularly where Hain’s choices were evident, but mostly her choices were ignored by those who knew better. Let it be said that Hain always saw the light, no matter its quality. Her last days and moments were of that vision, even when the world around her was dark and turbulent.

Hain’s brother Ted, for whom she had a special deep and abiding affection, moved to New England specifically to help in her in the unfolding journey. Years of experience with hospice, death, and dying gave Ted the background to be of maximum help to his sister in negotiating the complexities of the medical world which required long journeys here and there to find adequate treatment lacking in her provincial hometown. The usual comforts forever changed, but now she had a dedicated advocate in the struggle. He was joined by a few good women, who also loved Hain. There was no going back.

Hain’s view of ‘things’, and Ted’s memories, were quiet different, being that Hain always saw the glass full. But, that never mattered to their love for one another. In reality, for young Ted especially, the valley was the home of the matriarchy that sheltered their mother and siblings from the abusive madness of a deranged, unstable father. Here in the valley, were grandparents, eccentric and strong-willed aunts, wonderful old uncles with tales and inventions, chicken and dairy farms, and magic in rural foundations which quelled all danger with the embrace of unqualified love. Or so it seemed to the innocence of children, and stories of the generations.

All in all, this Brigadoon of New England was a paradise for kids enchanted with adventure, and a mother on the run seeking over and over again, safety from dangerous animus. Those late all-night escapes from Virginia to ‘home’ found resolution in the bright sunshine, rolling green pastures, valleys, and the hot coffee/warm morning kitchen at Nanna's. There, came the calm and safe foundations of Ted’s and Hain’s life. But, then that’s another story…………………..

Hain’s life was never safe for long, until the end years. Even then…. in the distant past a younger, Ted introduced his country sister to the wide world far removed from the valley. In it, she moved with a grace and intuitive intelligence which defied and conquered all the evil that came to her in the manner of sophisticated dark needing to feed on light. That particular journey is a hard one for those  bound in its gnostic fate and learning battle, by battle becoming wise mistake by mistake. Hain grew more beautiful in the trail of skirmish, and her generous spirit considerably tempered, but no less diminished.

She carried the dark force of her father, in equilibrium with the light of her talented mother and the matriarchy. It can be said that Hain’s mother, a prodigy, made music, while her father, Juda destroyed it, creating a mutant sorrow in its stead. Of all the me-me tribe' (as Ted called them), it was Hain, who held fast to unwavering loyalty and love seeing deeper in to the damage and finding redemption. Hain did not believe in monsters. She loved them. And in doing so, conquered the darker recesses of affection, leaving behind that bright bit of her that was kind, and illuminating love.

*********

While they hovered like sorrowful ghouls and marauding crows above her bed, she gracefully accepted their well-meaning intrusions, and let it be until their oblivious selfishness began to cause her pain. Even then, ‘the loved ones’ ignored the hospice woman, and isolated her as an outsider. Hain was at their mercy, and their mercy was lavishly squandered on their own insatiable grief, incidental to the wishes of Hain. Were it not for Jeff, her son, the end might have been an agony. With him by her side, the shadows had no standing in their light. But, we are getting ahead of our tale………………….

Hain had returned home only a month ago from the run of experiential treatments at a clinic of last resort. When she visited at the farm some weeks later, it was impossible to tell, if not knowing, that final illness plagued her every breath. Lovely and delightful as ever, she sat on the kitchen steps in the late afternoon, sunlight warming her skin, sipping tea, playing with Charlie Dog (who adored her), and talked of poetry. The raking light was golden, and touches of pink sky in the west hinted at frost. It all seems so long ago now. Hain loved coming to the farmhouse. Instinctively, she was attuned to the sanctuary nature of its peaceful embrace.

Even while golden moments were then possible, the power of her fade could not be stopped, denied, compromised, or willed away by love alone. The process was swift and deadly in its toll. Shortly after her visit, Ted went over to visit when too much time had elapsed and she had not called. He found her curled up on the living room couch, bundled like a wizened mummy, her bald head kept warm by a colorful knitted cap.

Her longtime companion, Dunn, whom Ted once affectionately referred to as ‘The Chuck' ( for woodchuck) was running around frantic, a moose in the cabbage patch wondering what to do. Hain had to hide her extra supply of Oxicodone, because it kept disappearing, and she couldn’t remember where it was. Nor wanted Dunn to know where it was. He kept trying to force her to dress to go to the emergency room.

Ted found her  malnourished, dehydrated, and somewhat neglected, while Dunn was beside himself and panicked. A three day stay in the local hospital brought her about, but the shock to her system set in motion these last days and hours. Dunn is a good man at heart, but like so many cartoons of old New England characters, a bit of an opaque cipher, and certainly as incompetent at care-giving as Homer Simpson is to winning the Nobel Prize.

While all this was going on, 'Dunn-the Chuck' retreated to watching wide-screen prerecorded golf (a version of entertainment equal to meditating on drying varnish) with the volume turned as high as possible to breach his partial deafness, chain smoking, and eating numerous pizzas to quell his man fear and lack of clarity. Dunn, in the mode of panic, consciously assumed consumerism cured all ills, stanched all wounds, and was as good a substitute for critical thinking as could be effortlessly found.

The good Dunn could be witnessed on rare occasions, and he would light up when in the presence of his grandchildren or his daughters. It was a rare experience to see genuine delight in his pale blue eyes—-almost a smile which, when forthcoming, made it clear why Hain had chosen this silent man as her final best friend. There had to be an inner life only she could see. The clue to Dunn’s silence lay in the heart of his mother, who could turn life to ice with the majesty of winter, and with only a faintly raised well-plucked eyebrow.

Dunn proved to be an incompetent and dangerous detriment to Hain’s last days and hours. It was hard to understand why he sullenly resented the presence of hospice and Visiting Nurses when she decided to remain at home, rather than die in the sterile confines of an antiseptic hospital room. His peculiar lack of control over his own house was later noticed and the subject of murmurs. An ugly truth lay behind the scrim of his whine of helplessness, and would manifest itself in Hain’s last hours.

Ted moved home for the specific purpose of supporting Hain through the battles, the war, sweet light delights, and hopeful gentle peace. It might be said, that Ted does not suffer fools gladly, particularly in his own family so deserving of applied contempt at times, and in that reflection is mirrored every family’s dysfunction. But there comes the moment of truth when less is less, and the exhausted effort at indulgence leaves the unworthy far behind as they assume ‘control’  and lead the way to ruin.

And so, the turning point had finally arrived when Ted brought in hospice to monitor Hain’s desire to remain at home. He then began the phone calls, and that protective bubble he had build around her out of necessity and love became dissolved . In an avalanche of concern, life relations came roaring to the little apartment on Maple Street with eleventh-hour passion and certainties about how to go about it all, or even worse, criticisms on what should have been done, or failings they deemed critical in their last minute rush to judgment.

Typical was the arrogance of Ted’s older brother Ben, an ill-worn intellectual, and his wife, Rena, who, amid the exacting demands of their high achieving professional lives and nuclear family devotion, had spent less than a handful of passing visits to Hain in the years of her illness. Even last year’s trip arranged by Dunn to create time for them in a South American haven with Hain, was spend wandering to far-off nature preserves, obscure Utopian colonies, and distant volcanoes. Hain, short of energy, spent most of her time alone at the pool, or visiting Dunn’s friends in the nearby colony.

To his credit, Dunn tried, but the over-achievers had more interesting plans pertaining to their own amusements. It is a mystery why Rena, who truly loved Hain, chose her highly formulated tourist plans over the obvious—-a last vacation with Hain. On the news that the end was imminent, Ben and Rena canceled some very important business plans to come to Hain’s side. It was made perfectly clear by them that their sacrifice was substantial.

They were going to stop by the farmhouse so that Ted could fill them in on the quick passage of Hain’s failing, but twisted by their usual passive aggressive manipulation, Ben and Rena sped directly to Hain’s bedside without stop, barging in out-of-the-blue with dramatic concern.

When Ted called them after they were hours over due, Ben could only snarl, “We don’t need your permission to visit Hain.” It never occurred to Ben that Ted wanted to gift him with the richness of his experience concerning Hain’s situation. The solipistic Ben only moved in the concerns of his own orbit.

Rena, who should have known better, managed to break a nail and spent hours wandering about, isolated in strangeness, munching down lasgna. Those who knew Rena and the richness of her inner life, kept looking for that woman amidst her fretful discomfort. She was not a player, but inexorably swept along with the willful energy of the ‘me-me’ mind tide.

As Hain began her transition, snuggled in warm flannel and her woolen cap buried in the down comforters of her room, the house began to fill with neighbors, family, friends, gawkers, and a village crone talented in the ways of gossip. At times, it recalled those dreadful scenes in ‘Zorba the Greek'. Hain had been given only three or four days at most, but by God, she clearly wasn’t ready or had been reanimated by the vampire needs of her sincere mourners. The overwhelming narcissistic self-importance of their grief took not a moment’s notice of Hain’s request for privacy and quiet. Most likely, it was the arrival of her only son, a nova of strength and love, that gave her the will to live—-until not.

All the players arrived, each important and indispensable in their own minds. Most notable was Ted’s father, Juda, whose shabby abusive history had resulted in years of alienation. Ted, for the love of his sister, embraced his father and let her know that the seeming reunion was just for her. For a few heart wrenching minutes, it almost seemed that forgiveness was possible. But like so many times before, the door slammed shut and light closed off again like all the other times.

It was an experience to meet the old man, after hearing all the stories and apologias about his sordid past and redemption as a ‘new’ man. Now he enjoyed prominence as a senior citizen in the very village that was once the shelter of his victims. Being who he was, the irony of a newly-minted life now long established probably never seemed evident. Very intelligent and cunning in any game, Juda kept his inner secrets flush for the final hand—-if then.

As everybody knows, thin layers of denial are the energy that keep secrets flowing like poison blood in small towns. Conveniently, a three-scotch nostalgia rewrites all history, and the abuser becomes the victim in time. That is why it is well known that outsiders tell what they know, not what they see. And those who do know, can’t bear the weight of the lie, so create a replacement more compatible to civility.

While many of us want redemption to be a grand event, sometimes it’s in the little details. During a rare moment of peace in Hain’s space, son Jeff saw a private moment between his grandfather and mother that will remain indelible: slowly dancing her around the kitchen floor to the waltz of an invisible orchestra and quietly humming a tune in her ear, the reprobate old man revealed the depths of his usually hidden heart. Hain loved him, and he—- her. One might think on seeing this scene that damage confines itself to history while love flows eternal. Cynics at such times are not allowed to impose truth on reality.

Even before the dust settled on the grave of his first wife, Juda had remarried, finding love and happiness at last with an attractive widow whose old merchant family origins gave her prominence. A tough cookie, but not without charm and goodwill, Bettney was a force of nature in the order of a Jane Austin character, necessary to the flow of information and civic bonhomie — a talent which animated the village to rise to its better instincts.

Bettney’s business acumen made her indispensable to the grace of ease which floated a penchant for Juda’s expensive off-track horse betting and comfortable retirement. Besides, she had kept her lovely figure, a no mean feat in the land of carbs, trans-fat, and sugar. Bettney, a steely survivor, was no stranger to monsters and handled herself well.

Hain held her dear, and often tried to convince Ted of her virtues. Unknown to anyone, Bettney left flowers every month for decades at the grave of the woman she replaced. And while he might not give voice to it, Ted was touched by her long term respect, even though when annoyed, he would occasionally call her offerings ‘guilt flowers‘.

Although his somewhat sinister reputation clouded introduction, Juda impressed the outsider as a rather small old man, ill bred, but charming, and given to intelligent insults clearly intended to level the playing field at the offset. His oldest son, Ben, and youngest, Ferris, were very much chips off the old block, but lacking the charm of a dedicated predator. Only five degrees of restraint separated the oldest from his father. But only one distinguished the father from the youngest son, Ferris.

Ferris, also known by the boyhood nickname, Ferry, flew in from his military assignment in Guam clipped and authoritatively sour on viewing all the ‘Obama for President’ signs that the village traitors had plastered on every post and pillar. When told that a family member had volunteered to pick him up at the distant airport, he inquired as to whether the ‘vehicle’ was suitable for his accommodation.

Ted, who had not spoken to his younger brother for twenty years, called and asked Ferris if he could accompany the pick-up and meet him at the airport, to which ‘Ferry’ replied with the psychic equivalent of piano wire, “I’m only here to see my sister.”

Ferry’s attitude did not improve much on further acquaintance, and your narrator, after meeting him for the first time, could have sworn he carried a handy-wipe to cleanse the liberal off his overtly manly handshake. At six foot something, the imposing Special Forces Commander seemed even smaller than his father Juda, and like Ben, lacked even a scintilla of social grace divorced from telling dull jokes when effervescent, giving orders, or being inflexibly right at all times.

It was disturbing to observe that a leader of forces in war was so absolutely clueless about the subtleties of dying, yet certain that his ignorance and limitations would be the final say. Ultimately the best impression he made was that of marginal civility to all but Hain, who inspired the best in his chivalry, and whose final dying hours were controlled by his intransigence at accepting information not in the chain of command to relieve her suffering.

If there is a worse, it was probably the intrusion of Cousin Piti into the maelstrom of the spectacle that swirled around Hain’s last days. If ever there was a hint of tragedy in the normal certainty of dying, it was the debacle of watching a wheel come off old Cousin Piti’s vehicle of matriarchy. Like Ben, she ignored Ted’s pleas to stop by and get the background of Hain’s quick decline.

Cousin Piti was never wrong in matters of her own will and determination to control the wildness of fate, inflated her usual disciplined importance. She had rushed into town and stormed into Hain’s house like a tornado. Complaining that she had been left out of the loop, she failed to mention that all the e-mails informing her of events went unanswered. In her entourage was a son and her hyper-active grandchild, whose natural fun was not in the least restrained by adults, who should have been even marginally aware that the noise and energy were grossly inappropriate given the circumstances.

Insisting that she rise and join them in the kitchen for tea, Hain obliged, summoning the energy to make the tea. While the child ran here and there excited at the adventure, the cat also ran here and there puking and peeing in fright. They drained the life out of her that day. Hain remarked after they left, “Please, no more surprises. I’m too weak to go through that again.” Even though warned twice about being sensitive, Piti repeated her performance the next day and in the days to come. She always knew best.

Piti established her perch as the matriarch of the unfolding events. Joining forces with Ferry, the two established dominance over Dunn’s house, everyone’s grief, and Hain’s well-being. The ghoulish duo resembled soul-snatchers in a sci-fi movie. In spite of Piti’s considerable experience with life, death, illness, betrayal, and tragedy, her collective wisdom at that point was less  valuable than old confederate paper. Piti acted as if she brought a treasure of ‘experience’ to the atmosphere, and was terribly off the mark.

Cousin Piti betrayed her worst inclinations, and added to Hain’s burden by interfering with her morphine schedule. She ignored Ted’s pleas that Hain’s body was whincing and in pain; that the dosage had to be increased. Yet, to her mind, was the gift of bringing order and tradition to chaos, while simultaneously participating in every moment of the disrespectful calliope that descended on Hain’s final days. Even the least seasoned  hospice pro's might say that Piti’s behavior was disgraceful and disrespectful stupidly—- a commodity common in the manifestly uninformed and ignorantly certain. In matters of will, Cousin Piti has never been wrong. Even with a  deep and loving heart, she was overtaken by ego and bad judgment to the painful detriment of Hain and the destruction of lifelong bonds—-particularly with Ted.

*******

So many times, your story teller has listened to the distinctive language of angels speak of worlds not seen by the living. As the mind spins its poetry of transition, while still grounded in the stuff of life, there lies the most lovely opportunity to see deeply into another soul. In Hain’s case, it was sweeter than one ever imagined and illuminated by spirituality and humor. Once devoted to sole survivorship, her spirited mind now roamed free and celebratory. Time and again, intruders, interrupted her reveries with the gnashing of teeth, rending of clothes, copious weeping, and oppressive gawking.

She would wake from her naps to find pairs of nostrils hovering over her head in quivering anticipation that they and they alone would be the ones to see her off. And, the second level of ‘worse’ was the loud whispering, “Is she still breathing?“ She would wake, stare at the freak show above her and ask if she had died yet.

Finally, after several days of that macabre wake, Hain took to announcing that she was not dead yet, and got up parting the living room like a dignified Catherine de Medici on her way to Chenonceau, desirous of a hot cup of tea, a much needed cigarette, and the will to give audience. For days, she had stopped eating and drinking and one wonders what miracle gave her the grace and will to ease the suffering of others so needy around her.

Nobody was more needy than Dede although she would be the last to recognize that fact even while decrying that trait in her own ’clinging’ sister back in California. Dede, unrestrained in her passionate self-importance and dedication to Hain, flew out from the West Coast to be of assistance to her dear friend in need. It didn’t seem that way at first, for Dede had one of those ‘sensitive,’ 'alternative,' 'holistic,' ‘helpful –don’t mind me,’ almost charming devotional personalities that actually masked an iron will.

She also had the handsome beauty and deportment of a Greek tragedian, which gave her a distinctive gravitas that hid her, well….bullshit, as it were. She was a woman given to steely opinion and hidden agendas for the most humanitarian of reasons, while chain smoking cigi-butts. She meant well and true to her word, never left Hain’s side, helping compensate for Dunn’s stupefying inability to cope.

On reflection, looking back on it now, Dede’s ‘path’ seemed so like those of many ‘New Age' converts —–a self-reverential humility masking a fractal of revelation. She had been a successful hair stylist before discovering avocation in the world of oncology as an assistant. That part of her life story was indeed noble, her experience both personal and professional could have been a great comfort in the situation. But that touch of possessiveness and lack of actual medical skills caused her to give suffering to the very friend she sought to shelter—a fact that would cause her horror, if she would give it light.

The only severe pain Hain had experienced in her gentle fade, was due to Dede’s untimely diagnosis of an imagined problem and administration of Sennecot—-practice by hunch. Dede’s incompetence should have been called on, and she should have been expelled from her defensive hold on the death bed. But ‘should-as‘, ‘could-as’ and a modicum of rationality could not move the me-me’s’ from their macabre enchantment with Hain’s demise.

It never even occurred to them to call in a registered nurse, until hospice pleaded the case with no little force of wit. And then this one and that one would take ‘credit’ for action, unknowing or revising the fact that Ted had spurred on hospice to intervene and bring in professional medical assistance. Otherwise, the handmaidens would still be shuffling about in quiet Bunraku deportment, softly clucking and desperately inadequate to the situation.

If you, Dear Readers, had been a fly on the wall to observe the unfolding drama in that little apartment, you probably would have dropped off, dazed by the brown fog of cigarette smoke that entered every nook with acrid bite. The thick toxic haze made dim the burning scented candles that could be seen like havens in a Nor’ Easter. Hain loved candles, prisms, and light. Her attempts at bringing beauty to what was, in this observer’s eyes, a horror show was typical of her subtle and better vision.

It might be noted in passing, that a large woman on her second tumbler of scotch, while grabbing a fist full of cheese-stick bologna rolls, passed too near the candles and ignited her crystalline-sprayed big hair in a flurry of fizzles and sparks, only to emerge unscathed, but smelling like singed poultry.

Distinctive among the ghouls was Dunn’s mother Evenna, who sent Hain a note just days before her death demanding that Hain shut all outside doors and windows in preparation for the seasonal change. ”There are to be no exceptions!!!!” No one could fail to observe that Evenna lived nearby and made as her special devotion, the slighting of her de-facto daughter-in-law at every opportunity, even on her death bed.

Evenna’s special flare for the spitefully dramatic gesture reached its peak as she marched in one evening, moving among the ‘mourners’ and gobblers, grumbling and imposing herself by slamming windows and doors with decided authority. Evenna, a popular woman among her peers, was a tyrant at home, feeding her own indispensable ego at the expense of her immature adult children, most of whom were successful by fiat, or else. She made it her special project to insinuate in a thousand petty peckings that Dunn was her least favorite, and his woman particularly so.

For some reason Dunn, the eldest of her progeny, while achieving a successful career and retired in comfort, never quite measured up to the standards she herself failed to achieve, but imagined herself under better luck, would have easily attained. One suspects that big baby Dunn was a pain in the ass even at birth, and Evenna’s resentment at the unpleasantness of his exit from her painful womb would never be forgiven. It would be a small mercy for justice if Evenna went to her Catholic Purgatory, forever condemned to counting and controlling the dust-bunnies in her closet.

The house that sheltered Hain and its groaning table were owned by Evenna. Such facts were always alluded to in Evenna’s mastery of domain. During the living wake, Evenna’s table was reminiscent of glutton festivals in the old country. Laden with heaping platters of greasy cold meats, casseroles,TunaDelight, lasagna, Jello molds, potato salad; chips 'n dips, and delicious appearing sweet confections that glowed with strings of garish frosting from their thin wrinkled aluminum containers. All the above was to be washed down by sweet pink dessert wine or hard booze. The most audible prayer for Hain was the popular: “Did you get anything to eat?”    It never occurred to the mourner/celebrants to be simply—-nauseous.

All and about were loud noises, laughter, telling of bawdy jokes, drinking, card playing, and then of course Dunn, huddled in his bear-sized big easy watching ‘Jeopardy’ at top volume, barely cognizant that his private cave had been overrun with emotional predators. It went on for days, while Hain, growing more sensitive by the hour, began her journey away from life encased in a nightmare of partying in the next room.

For the life of him, Ted could not figure out why Dunn was discouraging hospice, or the employment of full-time nursing during those last few days. Why was there no consistent professional daily monitoring of Hain? Where did Hain’s missing pain killers go? Why did Cousin Piti feel it her duty to interfere when there were  obvious signs of suffering and withheld morphine? Why didn’t Dunn have more backbone and defend his longtime companion against the perditions of an army of incompetent busybodies that made her last hours a circus?

As Hain became quite fragile and near the event horizon, Dunn decided that she should be moved out—–anywhere—- a nursing home—-the emergency room. “I can’t cope.” “ I can’t manage alone,” he whined. “I haven’t slept in ten days,” he cried. “Who is going to pay for all this?” I won’t pay her expenses he meant. His insurance didn’t cover in-home critical care. He had no problem with Hain’s desire to die at home, when he thought it would be a free deal. “Am I going to get stuck with the visiting nurse’s bill,” he wailed. He had already cashed out her bank accounts, sold her car the day before, and was anxious to move on.

Dunn threw Ted out of his house, yelling that he was trying to overdose Hain, and that it wasn’t true that moving her in the final hours would surely kill her– a moot point to those thinking ahead. Ferry and Piti became angry at Ted’s insistence that Hain be left in peace and threatened to call the police.

And so the manly Dunn, abetted in his decision by Ferry and Cousin Piti, began to make calls to social workers and nursing homes willing to accept terminal Medicare patients on the dump. Dunn dumped his long time love on the system to save a few dollars, and at the same time, the pathetic man was heartbroken. In reality, even contradictions find truth. Evenna, remained silent and grateful that her house was free of distractions, and that all the windows were locked against her cold.

**********

Ted’s last moments with his sister before the ambulance, were still and gentle. Hain had ascended the fray. While Piti was out back chain-smoking and justifying herself—- angry at Ted, Ferry was off for a walk to scowl at traitor signs in the neighborhood, and Dunn on an errand to buy comfort food, now that a solution had been found (in his mind at least).

Ted entered Hain’s room, looking over the familiar contents of her life: the ribbon’d straw hat hung on a peg; the white iron bed; a festoon of small ornate mirrors hanging along one wall; the pale blue, peeling, painted armoire; and the embroidered linen cloth that covered her bureau. He remembered that she left her bright pink flip-flops at the park some days before, but several pairs in bright colors were tossed in a corner near her bed.

There were all the cut-glass perfume bottles; tag sale bibelots; straw flowers in a rooster pitcher; relics from the beach—-pink and white sea shells and a collection of tiny beautiful stones she had gathered from walks in the woods. Stacks of books, some with small pieces of lichen bark, marked poetry and Mary Oliver passages for repeat reading. All her clutter charmed, even in the old days when it caused her consternation and temporary vows of pulling it together. She looked so like her mother, whose faded picture on the bed stand called across the decades, and whose luminous eyes suggested the source of Hain’s own.

Ted sat near her bed. Hain stirred and opened her eyes, smiled, saying, “Oh, it’s you. I’m so glad.” She grabbed his hand holding it tight and tapped out the code they had secretly formed as children. Tap, tap, tap—-"I love you". Tap, tap, tap, tap ,tap—-"a bushel and a peck". She soon fell asleep, but did not let go.

Ted did not expect what happened next; for there rose from her a beautiful swirl of light. It burst out in the most delicate and mesmerizing formation, shooting straight up and revolving, a luminous spiral nebula in miniature. All the colors of the rainbow in interlocking transparent color swirled about her, and the smell of roses and orange blossoms filled the room.

Then the room grew dark. Ted could see that Hain was standing by him, still holding his hand and softly whispering, “ Let’s go for a walk like we used to.” She opened the door and they went out, but it was not Dunn’s house. It was Nanna's.

The roof above the landing was missing; sunlight was streaming down through the opening, cascading shadows and stirring streams of golden dust motes in the air. Birds flew out in alarmed disturbance, abandoning nesting places hidden in the ruins.

The weathered silver wood of the gap-toothed banister and warped stairs led down and out into the clear warm morning. The faded peeling paper of Nanna’s rose garden walls curved away in torn disarray, dusting Ted’s face with the silt of years. The bottom stair landing was strewn with rubble. It had been decades since Ted had last visited the old place.

The front door had fallen off years ago, and lay some yards away in a thicket of over grown weeds, and the deserted un-kempt gardens that once delighted all who sought comfort in Nanna’s sanctuary. Nanna, who always made room for her loved ones in flight, was there once again, in salvation and home. Standing among the wild roses, jumble of Heavenly Blue Morning Glories, purple Asters and Queen Ann’s Lace, Ted was alone, filled to overflowing with the love of his sister, Hain.

 

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