A friend reminded me of this story I wrote from a few years back that drew us together since we both have experienced illness in our families. The question mark in the title is deliberate, meant to convey the dilemmas regarding illness and caregiving.
Beverly’s chin was cradled into her hands as she leaned forward, elbows on the computer table watching the numbers flip by as she defragmented her computer. 46%, 47%, 48%, 49%, 50%, 51% . . . It was 2:55 am, sleep had again avoided descending with its welcome fog of unknowing, unfeeling, un-everything. Guy’s loud snoring emanated from their bedroom. The scent of blood and the cleaning agents still permeated the air. Making her computer run faster was at least one thing she could control.
Talking out loud, to herself, to God, to the schnauzer curled beside the desk, she lamented, “I don’t know how much more I can take. You’re eighty-five years old. You probably don’t have much time left. My health is still good. I want to travel, go to Italy and Scotland, and Germany. New Zealand is on my bucket list, too. I may never get to see any of it. I’m trapped. I love Guy, but . . .” Griffin’s ear perked up and he snuffled upon hearing the name of his master and whimpered when he looked at Beverly.
“Don’t hate me Griffy. I hate myself enough already. The nursing home he was in; the care was abominable, that’s why I brought him home, but today . . . today may have put me over the edge.”
Earlier that day she had returned from the grocery store to a horrific scene. Blood everywhere. Guy on the floor, his head bleeding profusely. “Guy, what happened?” He stared at her with glassy eyes. Her instinct was to gallop over to him, but she feared getting close because of all the blood. When she saw the bloody pool in the bathroom, the trail into the bedroom and at the kitchen sink, she just went to the phone and called 911. It seemed obvious to her that Guy had fallen, tried to help himself—as usual instead of phoning for help—and had stumbled around the house to the first aid kit, whose contents were on the kitchen floor, and then toward the bath for towels. The ivory rug of the bedroom was probably stained beyond salvaging. He’d wanted that impractical color and now it was ruined!
This had been the third trip to the ER in four months. She knew the patterns of triangles and circles on the dividing curtains by heart since ER visits meant hurry up to get there—she’d called an ambulance each time—and then wait for hours. This time it was a CT scan, an ocular exam since the gash was so close to his eye, and stitches that waited to be sewn until the plastic surgeon came. Who cares about saving an eighty-five year old man’s face from scars! Guy had slept most of the time while Beverly seethed. Anger with him had become as familiar as the burnt spot in her heart that had been there since their son had taken his life twelve years earlier. Lingering, whispering guilt over Ethan’s death now mixed with her roaring resentment of her husband. In the confines of the ER alcove she had watched and listened to him snore and had shuddered when the realization gurgled up like bile. My God, I really wish the fall had killed him today!
A few days later Beverly had arranged for a baby sitter for Guy so she could lunch with her best friend, Rosalie. Rosalie, a retired nurse, and she had been friends for forty years or more having met while their sons had been teammates in soccer. “Bev, I can feel the negative energy emanating from you intensely.”
“Oh, you and this meditation and energy crap trap. Save it for your yoga class friends. Of course, I’m feeling negative. My husband could have died the other day.”
“Touchy! Go ahead pounce on me, I can take it. Just pretend I’m Guy.”
Beverly patted her friend’s arm. “I’m sorry, Rosie.”
“It’s okay, honey.” The waiter came and asked them about dessert. “How about we share some carrot cake?” Bev nodded her head. “And waiter, give it to us with two Irish Coffee’s, please?” When he walked away, she winked at her friend and said, “A bit of whiskey will do you good. It’ll remind us of that shop we stopped at in Ireland where they gave free Irish Coffee to try to soften us up to buy Irish woolens!”
“It worked on you if I recall.” Beverly smiled. “Set you back two hundred Euros, too.”
“What can I say, I’m weak and we had no husbands with us to stop us.”
Beverly gazed out the window, looking for what. Solace? Salvation? Rescue? “What am I gonna do, Rosalie? I love him. I hate what he has become. This invalid in my house I do not love, not at all, but the nursing home was terrible. He can barely have a conversation with me anymore without falling asleep. We use to love to discuss the morning paper, play scrabble. If I didn’t have the internet, I would die from lack of stimulation. I knew he was older than I when we got married but I never envisioned this. What am I going to do?”
“Well, honey, there are ways to put you both out of your misery. I knew loved ones did it. We just looked the other way sometimes, better to not ask questions when the person died at home after getting out of the hospital. Yup, my private duty patients often got helped into the great beyond and were glad for it I bet.”
“Rosalie! You never once told me about this part of your work.”
“Well, what was I to say about it? Some things are best kept quiet.” The waiter placed the carrot cake in the middle of the table between them. Beverly observed Rosalie ogle his rear end as he walked away.
“Sweetie, he is too young for you!”
“I can dream of him tonight though, can’t I?”
“That you can.”
“I bet he’s good in bed.”
Beverly laughed heartily. “Oh, Rosie, you always make me feel better. Thanks.”
A month passed. Guy slept it away. Respite care givers under contract had given Beverly some hours to herself. More often than not she’d spend them at the mall, at the window booth in the restaurant across the way from her travel agent. She could see Ben, her agent sitting at his desk with happy travelers who would leave chatting animatedly about the trip they had just booked. Where were they headed? Greece, Rio, Tahiti? Each time, her cell phone would beep to remind her it was time to travel home.
One afternoon, the phone rang. Beverly listened and then responded, “Oh, I understand. Of course, your daughter needs her mother. Tomorrow then? . . . Oh, no. Then how about Friday? . . Good, Friday, then at 1.”
Beverly sighed heavily. The mall would have to live without her today.
“Sweetheart, can you come here, please?” Guy was awake and sounded lucid for the first time in a while. How unusual.
As she entered the spare bedroom with his hospital bed, she saw him, his blue eyes were lively and bright under the shock of white hair. Something was different about him that was for sure.
“Bev, honey, I love you.” His voice was uncharacteristically strong. “Because I love you I want you to get me some morphine.”
“Guy, are you in pain, you don’t seem it? You look better, sound better.”
“That’s why we need to act now, while I have my mind for once.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The morphine. Please sweetheart. It’s my time.”
“Oh, Guy, no. We can’t.”
“Yes, we can. Don’t cry sweetie. I know how bad this has been for you. For us. Now go into the bathroom and get the syringe. I’m ready. How could I not be after all these happy years with you. It’s time for me to go see Ethan. Go, go.”
Beverly looked toward the bathroom toward her salvation. Or was it his?