By Carol Nadell
The long-awaited sun streams in the window, bouncing brightly off Lois’s silver hoop earrings. I see her first from the back as I’m coming in the door. I walk over to her and greet her with a kiss, carefully stroking her bony shoulder.
“You’re wearing the necklace,” I say, smiling with genuine pleasure, as I notice the string of pearl gray translucent beads I gave her – not knowing what else to do – when she was told the cancer had returned.
“I knew you were coming,” she croaks in a voice so faint that her hard-of-hearing husband has trouble understanding her.
Always my most well put-together friend – perfectly coiffed, dressed and manicured - she still insists on getting dressed, combed and lightly made-up, now all accomplished with the help of a home care aide provided by the Metropolitan Jewish Hospice Service from nine to 12 every weekday morning.
Through a small disc inserted in her chest, Lois receives pain medication by pushing a blue button on the remote control device she holds in her lap. She munches on ice chips to keep her lips and mouth moist. She hasn’t eaten solid food in weeks, this latest bout with cancer having robbed her of a functioning digestive system.
Her hands, skinny, weak and ice cold, are wrapped around a cup of hot water as she struggles to bring some feeling back to her fingertips. But constant vigilance is required as she nods off frequently, creating the risk of hot water spilling on her legs.
Later that day, I will go to a medical supply store and buy microwaveable gel packs to wrap around her hands. Her other visitors and I will smile at each other as we watch the color return to her hands. Even the smallest victories are celebrated when someone you love is dying.
I report that I have been to a wonderful matinee the day before and she, a theater lover like me, wants to hear all about it. The unspoken truth is that we will never again share a Broadway matinee, a movie at the JCC or long dinners talking about grandchildren, travel plans and the latest political travesties.
But she is still alert, still interested and still strong-willed. She is still Lois.
MADISON SQUARE PARK
The oldest person in the park seems to be about 32. Everyone is in shorts and t-shirts, visibly thrilled with what they mistakenly take to be the real arrival of spring.
I watch shapely young women as they delight in combing and styling each other’s hair. I see buff young men raising their toddlers aloft while diligently keeping a careful eye on the infant in the carriage. Balloons of bright primary colors float overhead.
Guitarists are perched on park benches, strumming contentedly, unconcerned whether anyone is listening to their tunes. The unmistakable aroma of char-grilled hamburgers and hot dogs slathered with mustard settles over the park like a familiar, comfortable blanket.
Uncomplaining young couples and singles stand in the serpentine line at Shake Shack waiting to place their orders. Cholesterol and carbs are far from their minds. They will live forever.
I make my way back to my apartment. My gait seems just a bit slower. My arthritic thumbs are not to be ignored. The woman who looks back at me from the mirror has grayer hair and saggier jowls than I remember.
I am not Lois. But I am not the frolicking young people in the park either.
I know where I am on this continuum.
EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.