November 27, 2007
It’s cold and snowy out there today, with gray skies and a temperature that doesn’t climb above the mid-thirties all day long. People come in complaining about the biting wind and the slippery roads, and visitors are at a minimum all day long. From the dining room I can see the paved trail that winds through Lelanau County, and there are only a few hardy walkers around noontime who brave the snowy, slippery pathway. They are dressed in garish colored spandex, making not only a fashion statement but also a safety statement: it’s deer hunting season and the amateurs are out shooting cows, dogs, and each other.
We’re safe and warm here, though some of us are a bit saddened. I guess I hadn’t written about my friend Kathleen who lived across the hall from me when I first arrived here. When I first came here I was in a lot of pain, and spent most of my time in my room just surviving. About the second day, Kathleen came over in her walker and introduced herself. She was warm and friendly, sympathetic and welcoming. “Come on down to dinner,” she said. “You can sit with me and I will introduce you to everyone. It can be kind of intimidating when you first get here.”
I didn’t go to the dining hall for the next several meals—intimidation might have been a part of the process, but mostly it was just the constant knife-like jabs in my right hip. Sociable I was not.
Kathleen asked me to join her a couple of times again, and finally one evening she said, “I really want to do this. I am going home tomorrow, and I don’t want to leave you stuck in your room with no friends.” Now if you know me, you know it’s been a long time since I felt intimidated about walking into a room full of people, but Kathleen was so friendly and so insistent, I gave in on the last morning she was here at O.C. and made the long journey down the hallway in my wheelchair.
She was good as her word: she made a space for me at ‘her’ table, and introduced me to Marmie and Irene, and we had a good old gossip and critique about the oatmeal and the under-ripe melon. I came away relaxed about my dining companions and sorry that Kathleen was going home before lunch. But I also found that she lived about a quarter of a mile from me, and she said, “When you escape from here, you come over and visit. We’re neighbors!” I’ve sat at the same table, in the same seat, ever since: that was Kathleen’s legacy to me.
Her full obituary was in today’s paper. I quote it here because it’s proof of what we already knew: “She was well-known for her loving, charismatic personality and her presence would light up a room. Kathleen had a love for music and dancing, in her earlier years she was recognized for being an extraordinary dancer; she was called the jitterbug queen. Her fun-loving, vivacious personality was admired by everyone around her. Kathleen loved people and had a passion for helping and giving to others.”
The other thing I will remember about her is that she was always dressed well, with matching accessories and manicured nails. Every morning she would ask for help with her make up: she had Parkinson’s Disease, and couldn’t quite manage the touch of color she put on her lips and cheeks. The staff didn’t mind helping her—it was just a few seconds of assistance for a woman who took pride in her appearance despite what her body was telling her, and who was very pleasant and always thankful for their help.
Kathleen was home for Thanksgiving. That’s what she wanted—to be with her family. But it saddened us all, losing her so quickly.
On a brighter note, this place is decorated for Christmas. Just a few low key items, but a tree here and there, and a wreath. Yesterday morning my friendly aide Patty greeted me at 6 AM with a cup of hot coffee, wearing a Christmas tree hat “I’ve got a bunch of them,” she says. “It’s time to bring them out. You gotta have some fun in life!”