The last day of 2009, we were allowed to leave work three hours early, which I wasn’t expecting. I decided to spend this bounty of time eating junk food and watching three DVDs in a row.
After I got home, I got sidetracked reading a novel, but had implemented my plan to the extent of eating way too much sugar when I got a call about vigil.
When I went through hospice training, my intention was to sit with people who were actively dying, in the hopes that no one would die alone. But prior to New Year’s Eve, I had instead spent time with people who were in hospice but not dying per se, which is perfectly fine, and probably most of what I’ll be doing, if only because people spend more time living and even being in hospice than they do actually dying.
And, to tell the truth, somewhere along the line, I’d kind of lost my enthusiasm for being in a room with a corpse, so when I was sitting in my comfy chair, digesting my chocolate cake (and peanut butter brownie), and reading my novel, it didn’t seem like a good thing when I got a call from the worst quadrant of the city, on New Year’s Eve, when I would probably end up stuck in that dangerous neighborhood permanently—I’d probably have to live there, due to not being able to get a cab back—and when the locals would probably be shooting off guns and killing strangers to celebrate the holiday. The last time I tried to get a cab on a New Year’s Eve, I ended up having to walk all the way home.
It also happened to be a full moon, when people act even more strangely than usual (according to the police), and in fact a blue moon! It was the second full moon in a calendar month.
I kept reading for ten minutes or so and finally stood up and listened to the message again, about the lady about to die all alone because the relative who had been visiting her regularly happened to be out of town now that the time had come. Oh, cripe. It wasn’t like I could go next time she died. This was the time.
I wrote down the address and looked it up on Google, since, despite living here for 27 years, I’d never even heard of the street the place was on, nor half the streets you take to get to it. I called a taxi company to see if I’d be able to get a cab to pick me up at that location later in the evening. They falsely claimed it would not be a problem, but I didn’t believe them.
I called Tom to see if he’d by any chance like to spend a couple of hours sitting in the waiting room of a care facility on New Year’s Eve. “Not really,” he said, and when I told him the location, he whistled.
Since Tom is always very optimistic about everything, I decided I absolutely was not going. If even Tom thinks a spot is no good, I definitely don’t belong there. But then he added that if I were to go early in the evening, it would probably be fine, and then we both remembered about City CarShare, which turned out to have a car available a block away.
It was a good thing Tom and I had already tried City CarShare for a past trip, because it might have been stressful to do it for the first time while already worried about six other things, but since I’d already done it, it was perfectly smooth. In fact, it was perfectly smooth the first time. Car sharing is a great thing, and City CarShare makes it simple.
I drove south, eventually admitted I was lost and unfurled my map but couldn’t make out that tiny print—next time I’ll bring one of the many LED lights I’ve gotten for Christmas over the years. As someone who hardly ever drives, I also couldn’t remember how to turn on the hazard lights, which I wanted to do in case someone drove right up behind me, figured out I wasn’t moving, and then shot me with their New Year’s Eve celebration machine gun.
I called Tom and he couldn’t figure out where I was supposed to go either, but he did know how to turn on the flashers, which was good. I headed north again and finally found the place, a lovely, immaculate facility with friendly staff, housed in a gorgeous historical building with high ceilings.
I sat with the dying lady for three hours, until 9:45 p.m. I found out after the fact that she was Catholic and had wanted someone to hold her hand and pray with her. I did neither, because her hands were largely out of reach, and because when I asked at the front desk, “Is she Christian? Does she believe in God?” the young woman there said, “Oh, no!”
“Is she an atheist?”
The young woman nodded, so, being an atheist myself, I just sat with her, right next to her bed, and patted her arm now and then, and read her some Mary Oliver poems quietly, and told her everything was all right, in English and Spanish.
I kind of ended up hoping she would pass away while I was with her, after all, because if she didn’t, it meant she probably would die alone. I learned in hospice training that most people do tend to die in the wee hours and alone.
She slept during most of our time together. She tried to speak a time or two, but it was quite indistinct. She was alive when I left that evening, but I imagine is gone now. I hope she wasn’t afraid when she died, and that she was at peace.