June 25 | Christine Herbstritt
Dot was getting old and just had to accept that she was slowing down. After all, the centennial mark had come and gone a few years now. She could remember a time when her eyes, ears, hands, legs and just her whole body still functioned as well as her mind did. But she still did as much as she could each and every day. She exercised an hour every morning, went to worship weekly, and out to dinner with her son when he visited. If an outing was planned, she had her lipstick and was ready to go. Sometimes she was the ONLY one interested in going and then no one would go. “But, why not? If you have a breathe left, why wouldn’t you just GO?”
Sometimes the frustration of not being able to do what she used to do would flash in her eyes. When she wanted to create and the paper would not come into focus. Or the conversation would buzz around her ears like flies. But she refused to give up or to give in. She did not want to become helpless like some of her fellow residents or forget her manners, reverting back to preschool mentality, demanding to be served first or interrupting conversations. Now her hands didn’t always want to cooperate. Sometimes she had trouble holding her silverware, and the nurses started to spoon her daily cocktail of pills into her mouth since it was too difficult for her to pick up. Like everything Dot did, she accepted it with grace.
And sometimes she just got tired. A proper nap after lunch would be in order. Not this snoozing in your chair in the middle of a conversation or a meal, or parked in front of a TV you had no interest in. These days Dot would go to bed just a little bit earlier and stay in bed just a little bit longer. A proper sleep required climbing into bed, under the covers, with the lights dimmed. The last thing Dot did before retiring, afternoon or at bedtime, was arrange her glasses and call button within arm’s reach on the night stand, and remove her jewelry so as not to catch it in the bedclothes. She would carefully place her rings in the little music box given to her long ago by her first love, still precious to her despite the missing ballerina and the chipped mirror.
When she was asleep, she could remember who she used to be. She could remember the feeling of swimming in the cool clear pond at the cabin when she was a wee girl; walking home from school for lunch, arms linked with her best buddies, giggles tickling her ear; and later, scurrying across campus trying to keep the cold north-east winters from blowing up her pencil skirts. She could feel the weight of her babies in her arms and the strength in her hands as she made cookies and cakes for her children, and dug the roots of flowers and veggies from her garden. Then she would dream of the woman she might have been in a past life: of being a ballerina dancing, leaping, flying free across the stage in swirl of pink.
Finally the day came when Dot’s soft snores did not fill the room. Her slight figure barely raised the blankets. Before alerting the staff and a dreaded call to the family, the Aide bent down to place a last kiss on her soft halo of white curls. As the Aide stood, she knocked into the night stand. She quietly shut the box, closing the little dancer inside. “Funny, I don’t remember that music playing before,” she mused as she left the room.