Auntie Mae’s Various Ramblings on Life in a Small Town

Ida Mae Nowes

Nubbins Special Correspondent 

I am writing this month’s column from a stiff, uncomfortable green chair beneath three cold tubes of fluorescent light and surrounded by a constant beep and whir of technology. 

It’s been a week now that my mother-in-law Floreen has been lying in this beige, unforgiving hospital room, and my husband Merl and I have been trading off time to be with her. Merl is at home taking a much-needed nap, while I try to find something to keep my mind from wandering into the wreckage of my future.

Last week Merl was visiting with Floreen at her apartment, when she started saying things that didn’t make any sense. Though Floreen is 91, her wits have stayed sharp, so when she asked Merl when his sister Ann would be arriving, he immediately grew concerned. Ann passed away six years ago, so he knew something was wrong. He called an ambulance and when Floreen didn’t try to talk him out of it, he knew it was extremely serious. He called me and I met them at the hospital.

It turns out Floreen had had a stroke, and she has been in the hospital ever since. Some days she seems to be getting better and the doctors are encouraged, but on other days she’s unresponsive and doesn’t speak at all or focus her eyes. For Merl and me, it’s been a roller coaster ride of hope to despair and back again, while the people with stethoscopes and white coats perform their tests and try their procedures – practicing their art.

Thank goodness for our friends, who have been a life-line with their generosity – offering us a break, calling and sending cards, bringing food and flowers. How do people go through times like these without friends? I can’t even imagine.

And of course there are the nurses. Doctors are all well and good with their technical knowledge – I suppose we must endure them. But nurses … they’re the real healers in my opinion. They’re the ones who listen to you and bring you Popsicles and lay their hands on you: angels in comfortable shoes, somebody said, and for the most part I have to agree.

Of course, Merl has been a wreck. He and Floreen have always been close, but especially so after Ann died. We haven’t really talked about it, but I’m sure he’s worried that he will soon be the only member of his nuclear family left. 

But this morning Floreen had a lucid moment in which she focused her blue eyes on us and even had a little color in her cheek. Always a mother, she looked at her grown son and told him (slurring slightly because of the stroke), “You’re tired, Merl. Why don’t you go home and sleep a little? I’m well taken care of.” Then she smiled and held his hand. So he did what his mother told him to do and went home to sleep for a few hours.

After he left, I asked her if she needed anything. She shook her head slightly.

“Would you like me to put on some music?” I asked.

She didn’t answer at first and I thought she had gone to sleep, but then she said, “Do you have any Beach Boys?” and smiled. I knew she was remembering the day a few months ago when we drove home from lunch together listening to “I Get Around” cranked up loud. She was the one who talked to and kept the policeman who stopped us from giving me a ticket.

“I didn’t think to bring the Beach Boys, Floreen,” I said with a grin. “I’ll bring it next time.”

She smiled again and reached for my hand, then closed her eyes. We sat that way for a long time, and I was sure she was asleep, but she opened her eyes and spoke again.

“You’ve made my boy very happy,” she said, “and I thank you for that.”

“He’s made me very, very happy too,” I responded, tears filling my eyes.

But Floreen wasn’t through. “He’s got you now,” she said, almost whispering. “Please tell him it’s okay to let me go … not to worry … everything is going to be okay.” 

And before I could respond she closed her eyes again. I was afraid she might have slipped away, but her breathing was steady – she had just fallen back asleep.

So, here I sit, waiting for Merl to return, imagining how he will respond when I tell him what his mother said, wondering what the future has in store. Strange, that even though I am in an uncomfortable chair beneath tubes of harsh fluorescent light holding the hand of a weak and weary friend, I am filled with a powerful sense of  peace. Or maybe it’s not so strange after all.