Let me introduce you to Mr. Bobby and Mrs. Lorraine, may they both rest in peace.
First, I ought to backtrack a bit. It was my first day as a volunteer at a local nursing home. I vividly remember my first assignment there to pass out fruit juice for dinner. Residents rushed in, creating a traffic jam. There were wheelchairs galore, and the dining room was simply not wide enough to comfortably accommodate them all. I heard grunts and a few expletives, although most residents were calm, assuring me that chaos was typical of dinnertime. When everyone was finally seated, a scary silence permeated the room: it was disconcerting how quiet it had become, and how quickly. Diapers protruded from trousers, and blouses hid behind large, white bibs. I tried hard to mask my heavy discomfort, which seemed to add more weight than my body could bear.
[bctt tweet=”Diapers protruded from trousers, and blouses hid behind large, white bibs. ” username=”wearethetempest”]
Following dinner, I was to deliver the mail. I knocked with some hesitancy on Room 302, and a barely audible “Come in,” soon followed. I planned to perfunctorily deliver the occupants their mail and then leave in a hurry. But that is not at all how things panned out. In mere minutes, Mr. Bob and Mrs. Lorraine charmed me into their life.
I learned that the couple grew up as neighbors in New Orleans, climbed trees together as children, and then fell in love. Mrs. Lorraine had Parkinson’s disease, and she absolutely loved arm massages. During my entire visit, she sat beside her sweet husband as he massaged her shaky arm.
[bctt tweet=”Still, Mr. Bobby told me, he was sorry that he was not there with her. ” username=”wearethetempest”]
My next time at the nursing home, I dashed through my assigned responsibilities so that I could return to Room 302. Mr. Bob and Mrs. Lorraine were talented conversationalists – we could talk for hours on end, without even a moment’s awkward silence. Although Parkinson’s was robbing Mrs. Lorraine of her ability to speak fluidly, I assured her, in between her ample apologies for her stammers, that I could understand her with no trouble. Mr. Bob often chimed in after me, “You sound great, Lorraine. Keep going honey.” In quiet response, Mrs. Lorraine would look at him with the biggest crooked smile that her Parkinson’s-saddled facial muscles could manage. Mr. Bobby always gave her the confidence she needed to continue.
Two and a half years passed, and this unlikely friendship only grew stronger. In the meantime, Mr. Bob and Mrs. Lorraine repeatedly attempted to arrange a day when I could meet their grandson, Parker, whom they spoke of fondly. This was a subtle attempt, of course, to introduce us in the hopes that we would climb trees together and then fall in love, in the same way that Mr. Bobby and Mrs. Lorraine had. No romantic relationship materialized between Parker and myself, but I still became part of the family.
Eventually Mrs. Lorraine’s Parkinson’s became compounded by dementia. She remained in bed from sunrise to sunset, and then again. Her utterances became less and less audible. I would stand in front of her, putting my ear directly to her face. Still, I could hear nothing. Sometimes I could make out the phrases she mouthed, if they were short and easy ones – “I love you,” for example. Other times, my many attempts to read her lips proved futile. Still, as before, Mr. Bobby encouraged her: “You sound great, Lorraine. Keep going honey.” Although Mr. Bobby maintained an outward positivity for Mrs. Lorraine’s sake, I knew that bearing witness to his wife’s intractable decline was so heartbreaking for him it was crippling. Soon, Mrs. Lorraine died with ease in her sleep.
[bctt tweet=”On Thursday, just a day before I was to bring him beignets, Mr. Bobby died. ” username=”wearethetempest”]
Mr. Bobby never returned to normalcy. I continued to visit him once a week, on Fridays. For the six days of the week that I did not actually see Mr. Bobby, he gave me a buzz, often in the evening after I had returned from school. There was not one day that passed that he failed to make some mention of Mrs. Lorraine. He was comforted knowing that she, in death, could now speak as eloquently and long-windedly as she once had. Still, Mr. Bobby told me, he was sorry that he was not there with her.
“I cannot wait to die, Hanan,” he solemnly murmured during one of our evening chats. At the time, I had been trying to write a paper on the other side of the phone. But his words hit me hard. My fingers could no longer continue typing, and I felt tears well up in my eyes. I promised I would bring him beignets, his favorite New Orleans-style pastries that Friday, thinking foolishly that a promise of beignets was commensurate to the desperate words he had just uttered.
On Thursday, just a day before I was to bring him beignets, Mr. Bobby died. I was so devastated that I missed a day of school. It was like I had just lost a loved member of my family.
Some months ago, I received a call from Mr. Bobby and Mrs. Lorraine’s eldest son, Larry. “I just want to thank you for being such a good friend to my parents at the end of their life,” he said, in between tears. I am sad that Mr. Bobby and Mrs. Lorraine are no longer here, but it comforts me to know they are together in good company. I bet Mr. Bobby is cheering on his dear wife right now: “You sound great, Lorraine. Keep going honey.”