When you’re ninety-one you’ve just about wrapped up all the experiences you’re going to get except for the big kahuna at the end. The days roll from one to the other, offering little in the way of surprises. I think that’s why, when my mom still had the energy to get out, she loved going to bingo, playing bridge, and gambling. “Casinos are my second church,” she’d preach, as we’d leave Sunday services and head for the slot machines. “I feel it in my bones. Today’s the day,” she’d declare.
But as her physical condition declined, her life got smaller and centered around her hospital bed in her big light filled room. She could no longer get out. And there… especially… she loved her scratchers. Every time she’d clutch her daily ten-dollar allotment in her frail hand, everything and everyone else in the room ceased to exist. The Queen of England herself could have walked in and Sophie would have said, “Excuse me your royal highness, make yourself comfortable. I’ll be with you in just two shakes.”
Then—scritch, scritch, scritch would go the quarter across the flimsy cardboard—metallic dust covering the bed sheets. Her brow would furrow with concentration as her focus became like a laser beam. Her breath would quicken. Here, in that moment, was… possibility! She’d give you this look that would say… We’re not just marking time here; this could be the big one!
As her capacity to care for herself diminished, and her dependency on others increased, instead of becoming fearful and contracted, she became softer, more open, almost childlike in her sweetness and wonder of things. She made it so easy for us. Queen Sophie, we’d call her. She sat in that bed and held court. She was a magnet and the people came.
They floated in and out all day, parked in a blue chair along side of her bed. They’d sit and watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, eating chocolates and drinking wine. They told her their woes and she listened deeply, commiserating and offering advice when asked. She got massages and her nails painted flaming red, and she got to gossip and tell them secrets that she could not tell me. She would have them sneak out with her daily winnings from the scratchers and reinvest to buy her more, knowing this was definitely a big “No – No” in my caregiving budget and manual, but loving the conspiracy, and “not really giving a damn”, always thinking that she was pulling a fast one over me.
I think back now about how lonely it would have been for her if she had had only me. I was boring and often felt overwhelmed with responsibility. But fortunately for us both, there was a village of loyal, loving and outrageous friends and family who blessed us with their generosity and friendship. How does one ever repay such kindness?
By paying it forward. By paying it forward…