I finally met Sue today. I am hoping that in some small way, she met me, too.
Sue is frail, with obvious gray hair streaking through – more gray than black at this point, although she is young – as young or younger than myself I think. The gray is not “normal,” as you would imagine in someone truly in old age. It is obviously illness induced. She can’t be more than 45 or possibly 50. Her eyes are so young. There is such a beautiful woman peeking out from the shell we could see there..
As we walked in, clothed in hospital gowns and gloves, Sue sat there, semi-upright in her hospital bed, and at once greeted us with a smile, as if she knew us all along. It wasn’t just her upright lips that smiled, but her young eyes were smiling most of all. My heart lept a bit, for I had been told of her condition beforehand and was not expecting a smile – at least not in the afternoon, which was when we visited, about 2:00 p.m.
About a week ago, my husband Ken and I received a call from the local Hospital Liaison Committee, or HLC, a group of volunteer Jehovah’s Witnesses who monitor the local hospitals for Witnesses who might be there and may need assistance. We are on a list of possible rooming options for displaced families and were asked if we might have a room for Jim B., Sue’s husband, while they determined the severity of her illness. Of course, the answer was yes, and we have already made fast friends with him, having a lot in common. He had appraised us of Sue’s condition which at this point is without a certain diagnosis. The primary symptom is rapid onset dementia. It is frightening and heart wrenching to hear him talk about it. This is obviously the love of his life. When Ken offered to cook him breakfast, he mentioned how early he wanted to get to the hospital each morning, because that is when Sue smiles, and he does not want to miss that…
So off early he goes each morning to see his love at about 6:00 a.m. and we don’t see him until about 8:00 each evening. Until today, we had not gone to the hospital to meet Jim’s wife, Sue. We did not expect a lot of interaction, and wondered how useful our visit would really be.
Lunch was still on her table when we arrived, and not much eaten. Was she hungry? Was she full? She cannot communicate very well at this point, but it seemed obvious to me that she knew what was on her mind. Of course I could be completely wrong, but that is how it affected me when she would try to express herself. She cried. I died a little inside. I so wanted to know what to say, or do. I felt deeply frustrated for her, someone whom I know could have been one of my dearest friends. That is what her eyes said to me. How does Jim do this? Every day. All day.
We only stayed about 15 minutes, though it seemed an hour or longer. I know how much time passed, because we were able to give our parking pass to someone leaving, and it still had and hour and a half plus on it… We had stayed long enough, though, for we could tell Jim really wanted to help her to eat, and we were more of a distraction from the need-to-happens at this point. Before we left I asked Sue if we could bring her anything, also looking at Jim, “Perhaps her favorite flowers?” I asked. “Lillies of the Valley, maybe” he said..” And a little babies breath, something simple, Sue loves simple things.”
Jim then asked if Ken would like to say a prayer for all of us before we left… “I’m not good at this sort of thing,” he said, but realizing that it would do more good for them than him, he bowed his head. The compassion in my husband’s voice during that prayer touched me deeply. We were all in such a special moment together. I only hope Sue was there with us, even a little bit.
My heart lept again as we departed, when she unexpectedly uttered “I appreciate it,” clear as day!
While it may be hard, I hope to visit Sue again, and soon… this time perhaps I’ll stay a little longer and with Lillies of the Valley in tow.