I had a new intake to do and instinct told me it would take a while. It involved driving south of Houston on I-45, all the way to the Galveston Seawall, then West to one of the small towns beyond it. With the sun shining and many high, puffy white clouds, the temperature was warm, but not hot. The day was gorgeous, perfect for a drive with the windows open.
Turning right at the appropriate light, I found myself in front of a geodesic dome house placed high on stilts. Long fascinated by dome homes, I was intrigued to learn more. But first things first. I opened my file, noting the patient was a woman in her mid fifties, professional and had been active in theater and museums. She had a form of brain cancer, having been referred to hospice the day before.
A tall, somewhat roundish gentleman exited the home, walking down and around the steps, smiling the whole way. Crisply dressed and self assured, he approached the car as I exited. His handshake was firm, but not controlling, as he identified himself as the husband of the patient. He said he was delighted to meet me, but the sad look in his eyes belied the truth. He was grief stricken.
He led me up the stairs, pausing on the porch and extending his hand towards the water, an invitation to view the beautiful scenery. The house was carefully placed for its spectacular view. Out at sea, a towering thunderstorm was building, producing bright shining clouds at high altitude, with dark grey, almost black clouds below. Under the anvil cloud, flashes of fierce lightning arced down to the sea, followed by the far off rumbling of thunder. It was raining far offshore, but beautiful where I stood.
Entering the house, the couples’ theatrical background was quite apparent. Beautifully decorated with fresh flowers evident in every room, I could see in my minds eye their star studded friends walking across the floor, taking in the scenery.
The husband led me to a dining table, politely requesting I take a seat and make myself comfortable. He checked in on his wife, informing me that she was asleep and catnapped often. So, we did the routine paperwork as he explained his distress of his wife’s illness through the process.
Soon I heard from the bedroom a wicked cackle, followed by a booming, feminine voice commanding, “Husband, attend me!”
His laugh followed with a an equally booming, “Your wish is my command!” With his right fist, he smacked his left breast, extended his arm, clicked his heels and with a devilish smile strode to the bedroom door.
“Prepare yourself, wife. We have a guest.” He announced.
“Prepare the crystal, we shall sip champagne,” came the reply. Followed by a bubbly, “Come in, come in. You are most welcome.”
The patient, bald with radiation tattoos on her head, motioned me into the room with grand hand and arm gestures. Her smile was lopsided, but warm. Clearly, this couple were dealing with their tragedy in a humorous manner. But, I would soon learn it was not always so. They had fought the cancer vigorously for over a year.
The first visit was fun. We did our serious work, but hammed it up also. Mostly, they hammed it up. They had been told she had three months left and their humor, it seemed, was therapeutic. She was in their king sized waterbed, refusing the offered hospital bed. She had difficulty walking, but was happy in her wheel chair. He was her everything, and he would be her everything forever, he vowed.
The visit went well, as did the following two over the ensuing weeks. Little changed, though she had declined a little every time I visited. we had more open exchanges, often laced with humor She was kept comfortable and the time period she had been given by her physicians. seemed appropriate.
The fourth visit was surprising. When I arrived, she immediately explained that I must remain the rest of the day.
“Cancel appointments. I have a short time remaining.” “There are arrangements to be made.” Never certain about what patients mean about a “short time,” I asked did she mean, months, weeks?
“I will be buried within 10 days and we have to make arrangements from here for everything that will take place in Chicago!” She replied. I cancelled the rest of my day. In between her naps, we contacted her Pastor in Chicago, the funeral home, a funeral home in Galveston. She directed me to her closet indicating which outfits she wished to view and then the jewelry, including her pink, pearl necklace and earrings, which had to match. Her husband knew precisely where to look for this special set. Then it was on to the makeup artist, wig and performers who would be present at her service. We then tackled her funeral service, as she and her husband chose scriptures, sermon title and music. Phone calls were placed from Galveston to Chicago, California and New York. All the plans were made.
Three evenings later, my phone rang. It was the Hospice answering service indicating the nurse and I were to attend her death. So, out we went to the West End of Galveston Island. The husband and friends welcomed us and we spoke with a very much awake patient still in her king sized water bed. No longer able to see and having difficulty talking, she invited us all to join her in bed. She was half sitting up, with her husband behind her, holding her in that position. With the nurse on one side and me on the other. Their friends climbed in bed, placing themselves along each side of the couple. She wanted us to sing hymns, so we did. When she drifted off to sleep, we sang more softly. Eventually, those who knew her best shared their stories of her life. There were tears and laughter, everything and everyone was relaxed and peaceful.
More hymns were sung, followed by sentence prayers and more hymns. Then, gently and peacefully, she left. One by one, we left the bed. When her husband was ready, the nurse called the funeral home. Everything was prepared.
It was dawn when we left the house. The sun came up like thunder, but offshore, clouds were gathering as lightning crackled and thunder boomed. It would be quite a storm.
It happened that she was buried eight days from the day she bade me stay to help her prepare. When people speak of death, or going home, it’s always wise to listen. They usually know a lot more about what is going on than we give them credit for.
As it happened, later that summer, there was a small hurricane. I finally drove out to see if their house still stood. She had told me the house would go and it did. Nothing was left, only the memories remained. How she knew the house would be gone, I cannot say. But she was aware that their stewardship of that space was temporary and it bothered them not a bit. They had been very happy there and hoped the next steward who purchased of the sand would be as happy as they had been. I add my prayers to theirs in this regard.