I’m “Hear” for You

I’ve never shared the elevator with another person in all the weeks I’ve been coming to help her. It has a musty, stagnant odor like most of them do, I suppose from mostly being shut tight while waiting for passengers. The worn carpeting probably doesn’t help either. Only two floors up but I can’t help wondering—what if this thing stops between floors and I get stuck? I eye the notice with instructions to call 911 in case of emergency. Ok, I have my phone, can do that. Hope help arrives quickly and I don’t go into a panic…

The doors open and I take a right and let myself into the first apartment where St. Francis stands guard on the porch. It’s dark and quiet…most likely she’s still in bed finishing her afternoon nap. I see that the sliding glass door is open and am thankful for the fresh air. The apartment smells of old age, illness and too many skipped showers. I reach her bedroom door that’s always open and see her small face haloed with white hair, layers of sheet, blanket, and comforter and her new favorite, fake, unidentifiable-animal-fur that her daughter sent for Christmas, pulled up under her chin. It’s soft as a bunny however and I’ve joked with her that it’s the perfect “pet”…no feeding or bathroom duties necessary. Careful not to startle her, I gently call her name and she quickly opens her eyes and asks…”is it that late already?”

Immediately she starts talking and pretty much doesn’t stop until I leave 2 ½ hours later. She tells me that she had a bad night…couldn’t sleep and her digestion is bothering her again. “Don’t know if I can eat, you know I don’t have an appetite anymore…I don’t care if I eat or not.” Her small, blue eyes look at me for sympathy and I give it to her. “I’m so sorry.” She changes the subject and points out her family members in frames scattered throughout the room. This son has two daughters who are successful and talented…and beautiful. This grandson now has a baby that I haven’t seen yet, and my daughter hasn’t visited me in almost 2 years. The stories have been repeated to me many times but I listen and nod and ask questions that I already know the answers to. She’s so happy and proud when speaking of her family.

We settle on a small, fresh salad with chicken strips on top with a balsamic vinegar dressing. I cut the strips into bite sized pieces. She finishes it all. Being a vegetarian, I hadn’t cooked meat in decades before agreeing to prepare her daily dinners. The chicken strips are pre-cooked and I just have to heat them up but the turkey burgers that she likes are bloody and have a strong “animal” smell. Took some getting used to…

Victoria C. Slotto has a prompt at The Bardo Group asking writers to integrate the senses in our writings: http://intothebardo.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/common-senses-writers-wednesday/#comment-5749

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16 Comments

  1. The first thing that stikes me about this piece is how natural, relaxed and conversational it is and yet it provided a poignant picture of a compassionate younger person’s experience of an older person living alone with limited ability to help herself.

    I like the way you slipped in the sense of smell with “old age, illness and too many skipped showers,” which in a few words tells us volumes about the lady.

    Additionally, there’s a subtle and consistent current of discomfort beginning with the elevator experience and through to cooking the turkey burger. Well done.

    Thanks for joining us, Gayle, and for sharing such a fine short story with us too. And, no it’s not too long at all. 🙂

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    • Glad it wasn’t too long…and thank you for a nice, encompassing comment, Jamie. It was fun to join in with you and Victoria.

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  2. Oh, Gayle, this was very well done. I could picture everything, and your sympathy and compassion come across so clearly in this. I imagine it is so hard getting old. I hope that both of us have someone as warm and wonderful as you to help us when we get there. Loved the details in this, those details are what make it real for the readers. Thanks for sharing with us – I think you nailed the prompt! 🙂

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    • You know, Corina, she says that to me all the time…it’s hard getting old. I know it is and I feel bad for her losses but we do have some great conversations and sharing. That’s the best I can do for her. Thank you for your kind comment for me…I so appreciate it…and glad I nailed that prompt. I’d like to do some more of these. 🙂

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  3. This is a superb write Gayle adding all the right ingredients for a thrilling read. Isn’t it rather typical that her fondest memories and thoughts are for family that seldom visit her? I guess this is something that all of us need to digest and think hard about our own visits to parents and family alike.

    Yes, time seems to be a factor for all of us but we should all make the time to call in and see them, whether it is a ten minute stop or an afternoon tea, it all adds richness to our lives and is a wonderful memory when they are no longer with us.

    Turkey burgers and all 🙂 lol

    Have a wicked Thursday my sweet friend…

    Andro xxxx

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    • You are too generous, Andro, and I thank you for your complimentary comment for me. Your message makes me think of those elderly ones who don’t have anyone to call on them…to listen and sympathize…how sad and lonely for them.

      Yeah, that turkey burger was a bit much at first…but I think I’ve made my peace with them! 😉

      Enjoy your Friday, my friend…and then the weekend! Woohoo! xoxo

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  4. after not eating meat for a while….yeah that smell takes getting used to….even as do our relationships….well drawn out and layered…makes me think of several i spent time with along the journey…my great uncle in particular and watching him his last summer…

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    • I know you’ve mentioned that uncle before, Brian. I think that time with him before he departed must have been a special time for you and he both. Nothing better than giving of yourself with love and attention to another.

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  5. Gayle, you totally engaged me with your sensory descriptions. So good. I think especially the sense of smell. It’s only lately that I’ve realized it’s importance in eliciting memories and setting a mood. Just loved it.

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    • It’s so true, Victoria…smells can be powerful connectors to our memories. So pleased that this engaged you…high praise coming from you. I don’t take your comments lightly…thank you, dearly. Will love to join in with another of your ideas.

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  6. It’s good to read your writing again, Gayle……..as you know, I do this same kind of work and it is the listening, the empathy, and the human contact that means most to these poor old souls…………a lonely life. One wonders at the family, all so distant. The repetition of the same statements and stories, I know so well………all they want is for someone to listen so they can remind themselves that they do have a family…….I related to every word of this piece. And I, too, was given a fake fur blanket one Christmas, that I treasure….it is my wolf companion, in lieu of the real one:) I am glad she has that much comfort, at least. I share your fear of elderly elevators. Yikes. And I dont have a cell phone. Luckily our town doesnt have a single store with a second storey, so no worries……..

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    • I know you do, Sherry and you are so right. Just listening and letting them know that they are still viable and valuable people with things to share. Her kids are scattered here and there with many grandchildren…all so busy with their lives…even the one that lives minutes from her…

      She loves that fake fur blanket…it is soft! And really keeps the chill from her old bones. I wish you could have another wolf companion, Sherry. If anyone should it would be you. Maybe some day.

      What really got my attention this week about the elevator was that someone posted a sign on the outside and inside of it saying that the phone inside was out of service! Eek! Hope the cell phone could make contact with the outside world if the dang thing got stuck! Hehe…

      Thanks for coming by and sharing your thoughts with me. Was thinking how nice it would be to meet you and sit and have good long talk.

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  7. I love this. My partner did lots of this years before I met her and tells me such wonderful stories about the women she visited, listened to, cooked for and took shopping. I’ve gotten to know the well over the years. She so appreciated you coming, more than you will ever know. Glad to see you writing again.

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    • She has become a good friend…we are equally glad that we have met. She has led a very unusual life and I told her it’s too bad that she never wrote a book…it would make for an interesting read. I’m glad you liked this and interesting that your partner did the same kind of work years ago. Being sweet to the elderly comes easy to me…well, I guess if they’re nice people it does. And happy to be writing again too…thank you, Renee. xoxo

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  8. This has a visceral feel to it for me–really well done!

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