Saturday, November 15, 2008
R.I.P little man
My bff had to put her cat Hobbes down today, just weeks after her weight-challenged cat Gilda up and left this world, freeing up kibble for starving cats the world over. Gilda got more than her fair share, bless her heart. Hobbes, though, he never could keep the weight on so he was affectionately known as “Keith Richards”. I thought that after Gilda died, Hobbes would be free to enjoy his golden years, what with his cranky, cantankerous sister up in the big litter box in the sky. He mostly ignored her, but in later years with his hearing failing, perhaps he was guided around the condo by the sound of her hissing and grew to appreciate her. With Gilda gone these last 8 weeks, Hobbe’s purring sweetness was no longer in stark contrast to her permanent bad mood. Maybe he lost himself a little. As independent as cats seem to be, perhaps even they wonder who they are when no longer defined in contrast to their constant companions?
Language is so interesting. We put preserves “up” when the harvest is so bountiful we just don’t know what to do with it all. We put our pets “down” when life becomes just a little too much for them and we know it’s time. We make this decision for our pets because they can’t really ask for it themselves.
Just when my bff was driving south to the vet’s office, I was heading up north to Bothell to a nursing home. On Fridays I volunteer with Senior Services of King County taking my “ladies” (and sometimes a man) to their doctor’s appointments or, like today, to visit a spouse who, for medical reasons, can no longer live at home.
Today my client's name is Concetta Migliore. When you say her name out loud you realize precisely why Italians love to sing. Concetta does sing, but her true talents lie in her piano and accordian playing. At 89 years of age, she no longer has the strength to hoist the accordian up like she did for 20 years at Mia Roma, an Italian restaurant icon in Bothell.
On the way she asks if we can play some of her music so I pop in her Andrea Bocelli cd and with his voice in the background she starts telling me her stories; about her music days, about her husband, who’s 97, about how he’s as handsome today as the day they met. “We’re still in love, after all this time,” she tells me and it is confirmed when I see their greeting 10 minutes later. We find her husband Johnny with his aide David amid the controlled chaos of the home, the blare of so many televisions fighting for attention with the visitors greetings, the back and forth of the nurses and the presence of the residents, nearly all in wheelchairs, lining the wide florescent hallways.
Concetta leans down to Johnny, in his wheelchair, totally blind and challenged with constant fluid in his lungs. She kisses him many times, so sweetly, first on the lips and then twice on his forehead. He smiles broadly and holds her hand. While she reaches in her purse for homemade biscotti and cheese sticks for him (“he just loves cheese sticks” she says in a stage whisper), David tells us Johnny had lasagna today for lunch and asks him, loudly, “So, Johnny, what did you think of the lasagna?” He replies, deadpan, “not very much.” His family is from Calabria. I get the sense that this man has strong opinions about Italian food.
We can’t stay too much longer so Concetta asks him if he’d like to hear her play the piano and oh yes, oh yes he does. They’re famous in Bothell, this couple, for their music, their dancing, their obvious love for each other. Johnny is wheeled towards the main hallway near the reception desk, steps from the front door where there is a piano. Concetta steps up, instructs me to stand where she can see me ("I just hate playing with my back to people!”) and holds Johnny’s hand and asks him what he wants to hear. Several other residents wheel over looking expectantly towards the piano. Some, farther down the hall, stare vacantly in front of them.
I don’t know the songs myself but they must be classics because it seems I’m the only one hearing them for the first time. She plays beautifully, sometimes leaning in to the piano for emphasis and then, at other times, shaking her shoulders up and down, leaning back on the bench with sheer joy and delight. After each song, we clap and say, “Bravo!”
In the car ride home, she tells me she wants more than anything to be with her husband but it simply costs too much per day at the home. She’s going to figure out a way, though, to make it work because she just loves him so very much. I can’t help but feel somewhat sad; his health is obviously declining. But at this moment, this is my sadness, because when I look back over at Concetta she only has a smile for me, “I have had the most wonderful life.”
I volunteer to help people, yes, but I also volunteer to gain perspective and to force myself to embrace how very lucky I am. Lucky to have my health, my beautiful partner, my family, my friends, my sweet, sweet dogs, a career that I love. Standing next to the piano today, looking out at the residents, many of them in their last months or years of their life, I didn’t feel sad or depressed, I felt strangely joyful. What a gift to remember how important it is to really live. I, too, want to look back someday and say, “I have had the most wonderful life.”
Hobbes, rest in peace, little man.