The Old Lady’s Birthdays
We all know some people who, by setbacks in life, became difficult to reach and realistic, but deep within themselves were full of human emotions – as most of us are. Such individuals appear practical, often factual, and only in special moments emotions emerge from them which are warm and intense. Don’t they also deserve – or maybe especially so – our empathy?
The old lady’s 90th birthday approached and was intended to become once more a grand festivity. For too many years she had to live, separated from her husband, a simple life under financial constraints – until recently, thanks to special circumstances, when she had obtained some money. The old lady’s daughter just happened to arrive from far away and was expected to assume the organization of the festivity.
Let’s get started right away! Who all shall be invited? Obviously the ladies from the bridge club! From both bridge clubs the lady was a member of? No, that would not work! They don’t get along with each other! Well, just leave out those ladies who don’t get along? No, that does not work either! The others will feel offended! Well, then invite only the ladies from one of the bridge clubs! “That does not work at all! Then I cannot play with the others any longer”, was the comment.
What if we resolve everything by way of a clever seating arrangement? The ones here, the others there! Great! „Well, then give me the names to let me start, by simply going down the list“, the daughter suggested.
“You are crazy! You must pay greatest attention! Mrs. Mertel thinks that Mrs. Simon cheated last time. They cannot be placed together!” was the objection of the old lady.
“Well, then we simply put Mrs. Ludwig between them”
“Impossible! She talks continuously, without stopping! She has to be placed at the very end of the table!”
It went back and forth that way for three days. It was a real miracle that, at the end, an actual seating arrangement resulted.
“Don’t we have any gentlemen?”, the lady suddenly observed. “Where shall they sit after all … George, John, and Anthony. George does not talk much. We can place him next to Mrs. Ludwig, who talks so much. John is well read. He will be sitting next to Mrs. Carsten. Her husband was a teacher, may he rest in peace. And Anthony? He is still so young and elegant, he will be next to some of the best of my ladies – Mrs. Mertens, whose husband had a factory for brass buttons, and Mrs. Simon, whose husband had a government position. Wonderful!” Now it became real fun to prepare the feast.
Then, a new problem appeared. „I don’t have enough glasses for that many people!”
“Didn’t the bridge ladies want to give you something, all together?” the daughter remembered.
Those ladies were quickly asked whether their gift could not be glasses. One of them immediately wanted to manage everything, but the old lady precisely did not trust the taste of that lady in such matters. Consequently, each of the ladies donated only a few dollars cash, always tied up with a little bow and clearly readably marked how much money and from whom (not allowing any one to cheat), all visibly attached to a bunch of flowers.
Now, the glasses had to be bought. At Becker’s store, they are good and cheap! – Three days later we unpacked the glasses. “How do you like them” asked the lady expectantly her son in law.
“Well, they look alright – and lots of wine fits into them”, said the son in law, “but I just hope that you don’t want all your guests to get drunk!”
“No, and, mainly, that would be much too expensive for me!”
Again three days later: “I exchanged the glasses at the store. Here are the new ones. I measured them with an old wine bottle full of water. Each bottle yields six full glasses!
“Well, that’s just the way they look. Maybe you could have filled 12 such glasses with a quarter of a bottle”, commented the son in law somewhat sassily.
“But don’t they look nice? … and you also said that, mainly, my guests should not get drunk!” was the answer. End of the discussion!
George and his wife brought a wonderful gift, a scarf by Missoni. This Italian fashion designer was quite successful in rural towns and had a big store here, too. This scarf was the lightest and finest of the fine, in the fashionable color gray – simply a median gray – with a big “Missoni” logo up front. Everybody, who knew what was fashionable or fine, said “oh” or “ah”. Only the old lady said: “That looks like a cleaning rag. I will not wear such a thing!” Did we experience a sequel of Andersen’s Tales?
“Could George bring his children to the feast”, the daughter wanted to know.
“Maybe. But Sue is not allowed to bring her 2-year-old daughter”, decided he lady. “I did not invite her! That would be too disturbing! We are not a kindergarten!”
„But Sue will not come without her daughter, who, after all, is your own great-grand-child“, was the objection.
“I tell you, if he little one comes along, I will tell her to leave the room!”
Finally, the birthday turned out to be very joyful! The old lady was radiant and finally had once a very happy day, which we all cordially wished her. Obviously, Sue did bring her little daughter along, who behaved very well. Only Anthony came late. He had spent the day before hunting and had celebrated through the night with his companions. When he came into the warm room, had eaten his soup and drunk a glass of wine, he put his had down on the table and fell asleep, precisely between Mrs. Mertens and Mrs. Simon. When he finally woke up again, he brought his dog in, to let him have part of the party, too – and of the god food as well.
Now, two years later, the 92nd birthday of the old lady is approaching. She had lived increasingly lonely, since more and more of her old friends had passed away. On account of the withdrawn life, she could not walk very well any longer. Her general physician said she should keep her legs up and rest. But things turned worse, also with pain for her.
Why had she not seen a specialist? “Well, will they have time for an old woman and will the insurance pay?” she commented in a resigned voice.
“That does not mean anything. You finally have enough money. One can see a doctor as a “special” patient and will be seen immediately!” her son encouraged her, who had always cared for her faithfully through all those years and had always brought her to his home on festive days. This son knew somebody who knew exactly the right specialist. The daughter, who lived far away, organized everything by telephone. The doctor’s analysis took place within a few days.
“What, put the legs up and rest, you were told? That was crazy! One should have done exactly the opposite! I hope we can still save those legs! Firstly, you have to stay in the hospital for a few days for observation!”, the new doctor decided.
Telephone calls came to the hospital, to ask how she was doing. Actually, quite well! “Today, something very funny happened! The other old lady, the one sharing the room here in the hospital with me, fell when trying to get up. She took the whole nightstand with her! Everything tumbled down. I really had to laugh!” reported our old lady.
“You cannot talk about it so loudly on the telephone. The other old lady in your room can hear everything!” her daughter commented.
“Why not? That’s the way it happened!” was the only reponse.
And then, only two days later, the same accident happened to her. When getting out of her sickbed, our old lady had fallen down – a hip was broken!
The operation went well. Only a week later, the scar was healed. But the legs had to be kept put up and resting during all this time. “I don’t like that leg at all”, said the chief physician. The next day, he said, “It looks like gangrene. We have to operate on it – in order to save at least the other leg!” – and thereby meant an amputation.
The old lady remained silent, trying to delay an answer. Nobody said anything. Nobody gave her any advice. Once more she stood all alone in front of a problem of her life. Again, it was a matter not to let any emotions come up and to remain practical. “Well, if you have to operate, then go ahead and do it – but right away”, she said and looked pale and calm out of her sickbed to the doctor.
“When? This afternoon or tomorrow morning”, asked the doctor.
„Don’t you have anything better to do this afternoon?“, the old lady said. Maybe that was not sarcastic, only surprised that she would be treated immediately by those physicians, while she always had to wait so much in her life.
The operation took place the next morning – and went well. After only one week, that scar was healed, too.
The daughter, who lived far away, came quickly visiting again. As she stepped into the hospital room, the old lady felt as if new light was shining into her life – as if human resonance could be there again – and, possibly, a solution to her problems – as if she were protected now. Her face turned bright. All fears and loneliness left her. Her heart became lively once more, as it had been only a long, long time ago – as a resonance of better times in her life, maybe of her childhood. So, she said with a calm voice, “How beautiful that you are here. Now everything will go well!”
Her daughter and her son now spent many hours every day at her bedside in the hospital. Sometimes even one of the granddaughters came to visit. Now, they talked about her approaching 92nd birthday, which the old lady would most likely still have to spend in the hospital, possibly in the rehabilitation station. Yes, everybody should come and visit with her! Everybody! It should be quite festive once more! There should be champagne!
That does not work with the reality of the hospital. Therefore, juice would do. Also, not all could be in her small room at once. “Well, then some can come in the morning and others in the afternoon”. The phone calling started. A time schedule was established and also who should bring some cake and who the candles, which, however, were not allowed to be lit in the hospital.
The chief physician stopped by once more. He now comes twice every day, also on weekends, and shows personal engagement. What a human being! This time, he came with his assistant, who also cared for the old lady, as if she were his own grandmother!
This time, the chief physician said, that he did not like the other leg either any longer. The next day he asked, whether he should remove that one, too
The old lady remained silent and merely looked at her just visiting children. But those did not say anything either. Thus, she was very alone once more, -- had to close herself up, -- had to be practical again in this life – as she had learned to be through so many years of her life. The physician kept looking at her, waiting for an answer. Finally she said: “Well, alright.”
Later, she was asked by her son and daughter why she had agreed so easily. “Well, now I still have a clear mind and can still get something out of life!” Otherwise, the physicians would just wait until she would feel so bad, that she could not personally decide any longer and then they would take the leg off anyway. Then she would not get anything out of life any longer. “Therefore, let’s do them rather now.”
Thus, she attempted to retained the hope for light after darkness.
In the afternoon, there came two physicians, the chief and also his assistant, and asked for a signature under her written permission to do the operation. The old lady refused to sign. Was that her last defense? But didn’t she agree? Well, yes, but she would not sign. The daughter should sign, the doctors said. “No”, the daughter said, “that can be done only by the old lady herself.” Then, he would sign, said the assistant, because he had heard the agreement by the old lady in the morning.
The operation went well. After one week, also that scar had almost healed and the birthday took place – in the hospital. As requested by the old lady, one had dressed her in a nice silk blouse and she wore her long, golden chain. She looked very good! Wonderful flowers were arranged in her room and a large cake was delivered with a colorful “92” in sugar on top. The closest family came first. When the grandchildren arrived, the older visitors left. That way, there were always visitors, also including the doctors, and the old lady had a happy day. Only that great-grandchild had not been brought to the hospital and also Anthony did not show up, was possibly hunting again that day.
Then, the specialist for wheelchairs from the insurance company arrived, in order to bring one for the old lady. He seemed to be a skillful specialist and was in good spirits. He immediately started with his task. “How tall are you?”
„About 5 foot and 9 iches“, answered the lady.
“That means now, without legs, only 3 feet and 5 inches”, the specialist said. “And how heavy?”
„Hundred and eighty-four pounds!“
„Well, that was with the legs, consequently less now“, he said. „Let’s see what we have available in wheelchairs now. There is always one which becomes available again.”
Then he wished her “all the best” when leaving happily.
Yes, that is the way it can actually happen.
Now, the old lady lives in a continued care facility. She still likes to sleep a lot. That is what she enjoyed in the hospital with all the medications there! Therefore, the same sleeping pills are used again, but always early in thy evening already. At 4:00 at night, however, the old lady wakes up again, cannot read her watch in the dark, rings the bell for the nightshift nurse, only to ask what time it is. The other day, she even called her son on the telephone, who was quite sleepy when he answering.
“What is the matter with your voice?”, she asked. “Are you possibly sick?”
Now, her telephone is disconnected during the night and the nightshift nurse went along with this only a couple of times more. Then, he mixed a sleeping medication into her intravenous drip. The old lady then slept almost continuously for two days, until the alarmed daytime nurse and the relatives found out. They then gave her a nightlight for reading her watch.
The old lady now receives muscular rehabilitation and learns to sit in the wheelchair.
One of her grandsons visited with her recently, the one who often appears quite serious and practical, but who, in cases of need, always shows special sensitivity and warmth of heart. They talked about times past, when the old lady had visited often with her daughter. In those days, she had done the cooking for all the grandchildren, also for him. Those were possibly the happiest times in her life, when she was fully part of a family.
She talked for a long time with this grandson and, for once, felt fully understood. She asked whether all of this still made sense? What was the sense of always laying there in her bed and transfix the white ceiling of her room?
“No”, he said. “Now you learn how to sit properly in your wheelchair! In three weeks I will come again. Until that time you have to know how to do that. Then I go with you out into the garden – and then, you have to learn how to laugh again!”.
What a great young human being! How we could all use such admonition from time to time!
Other grandchildren called from nearby and from far away, as never before. The distant daughter called two times every week, at least for half an hour, or even more often and longer. In the past, when the old lady still felt well, she had always been quite lonely in her apartment.
Yes, and the old lady had many other visitors, too – from among her earlier bridge friends and neighbors. The other day, she needed money, which her son obviously immediately brought to her. Then he heard, that a “lady”, as she said, had visited her. She never called her bridge friends that way. What kind of visit could that have been? Wasn’t there a rumor that a new religious sect or the Scientologists or the followers of an obscure guru came to “look after” old people, even had something signed for themselves? Was there not a handwritten letter from one of those sects?
As the son heard about this, he arose rather quickly. “They cannot have anything signed! The old lady is still taking medications! Who was that? When was it? Last Sunday they came? Well, I will be sitting there next Saturday and Sunday, both days all day long – from morning to evening – to a await then. They shall see me as I will be sitting there! I will have quite a conversation with them!”
Well, that way the old lady will be nicely visited again this weekend – and we wait for the report!
After such big operations, old people often live only a few weeks longer, then just fall asleep. At the lady’s continuing care facility, the average life expectancy was only one more year. But an old gentleman reached, after such a leg operation well taken care of, the age of 105 years!
Our old lady began reading magazines again and talked with the caregivers about the latest society gossip, also began to complain about the food. We all only wish her further all the best!
Epilogue: As the old lady felt better, thing calmed down around her. At the continued care facility, she usually lived quite withdrawn. Once more her daughter visited with her form the distance. “Watch out for the black dogs which always come in from the balcony!” the old lady warned, because by now she already lived mostly in her dreams, which were not always good. After another half year, the lady fell quietly asleep and did not wake up again – and we cannot call her or visit with her any longer.