Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Peaches & Reverence

“Someone, come, please. Is there anyone here?”

It is the middle of the afternoon. Bea has finally awakened from her sleep marathon. On the kitchen counter a ripe peach sits waiting, rosy and firm, perfect for her next meal. I cut out a wedge and slice bite-size pieces, which I carry into the bedroom, a treat for the fussy one who has been refusing food of late.

“Here I am,” I say.

“Why, it’s my beloved Sandy!” Bea exclaims, genuinely glad to see me, quite the opposite of earlier in the day when, in pain, she just wanted to be left alone.

“What can I do for you?”

“Come speak to me please. I’m so lonely.”

“I just bought you something new. Look, peaches!”

I tip the bowl so she can see the freshly cut fruit. The smell of summer must tickle her nose. Do I perceive a slight smile? Perhaps it is the novelty of a food no one has yet offered that has made her eyes light up?

Bea is on her side, so I angle a piece of peach into her mouth. She eats this first slice with enthusiasm. The second is received with more circumspection. By the third, fresh peaches have lost their appeal.

“That’s all I want,” she says curtly.

“Oh, do eat a few more. They’re so good.”

Two more slices disappear. There is only one left in the bowl.

“Now I want to go to sleep.”

With a shiver of frustration, I pop the last peach slice into my mouth. I stand there, by her bedside, and ponder the perversity of life. Here I am, caring for a woman, my mother, whom old age has transformed into an infant. Soon she will die, completing the life cycle.

I was struck this morning by something a bed & breakfast guest said about the elderly. This lovely young woman, holding her toddler’s hand, told me she had worked in a nursing home one summer and had been shocked at the infrequency of visits from family members. “Our society does not treat elderly people with the proper reverence,” she concluded.

Reverence. Now, there’s the perfect word. Our society does not treat the elderly with any reverence at all. We hide them away in nursing homes and wait for them to die.

Not everyone can make the choice to keep an elderly parent at home, but people need to know it is an option. Home care is not the mountain some people perceive it to be, especially once Hospice gets involved. Then the hike gets easier. And the view from the top is well worth the effort.

Personally, I think Bea is better off here at home, in her own room, with me feeding her fresh peaches ...


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