Thursday, February 26, 2015

Saying Goodbye to Dorothy

"There ought to be a place where 

nobody gets old  

and nobody has to die."

           from the movie, "Cocoon"

We got the call Monday. “Dorothy has died,” the worker from the Nursing Home said. “Huh?” I exclaimed. Though she has gotten weaker and sicker we never thought she would leave us this soon. She was 88 year old and we were her caretakers. She was my wife’s last aunt.

Her husband died in 2009—and even before his death we could tell that something was wrong. Dorothy was just not herself.  And after his death because she was afraid to stay alone we had someone to stay at night. This evolved into finally someone was there around the clock. Most of those that sat with her were great. They went beyond the call of duty. They were all black—and they cleaned her house—not part of the job description—cooked great meals—also not part of the job description—and loved her.

Finally—realizing she would never get any better we moved her from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham where we lived. She went through a round of nursing homes. I think she was at four different places. Two of those places she managed to get her purse and walk out the door. Fortunately she didn’t get very far—but she said she was going home. The people that attended her in all those places were wonderful. We could not complain. She was safe, reasonably contented, well fed and surrounded by care. My wife especially made sure that everything was good for Dorothy.

When we moved from Birmingham to Clemson we brought her with us. She lived down the street from us—maybe five minutes away. She received good care all the way to the finish line.

But the heartbreak of watching her slowly, ever so slowly drift away from us was hard to take. To the end she always knew us and was delighted when we came. That delight lasted about a minute and then she was gone into herself. Mumbling and saying things we could not understand.

So yesterday we had the sad task of going to the Nursing Home and getting her belongings. She was in a room with a woman in a wheel chair that looked out after her. Dorothy’s bed was next to the windows. Plants lined the ledge of the windows. We opened her closet--where she kept her clothes and shoes. So many of those pants and tops we did not recognize. She kept switching clothes with her neighbors.  We opened the little drawers that held her treasures. There was little there.

“Just leave the things you don’t want and we’ll either give them to some patients or dispose of them,”  the Director said. So we took two oval-shaped pictures of her young Mama and Daddy. She talked about them to the very end. How they had visited her. She told us how they were doing and how much she loved them. In her tangled mind they were still alive—maybe our parents, good or bad, are always alive somewhere in our memories.

So after thanking the staff—we left holding two tiny pictures. It all comes down to this at the end I guess. We spend all our time buying and collecting—and at the end we are all the same. We take nothing with us.

Dementia—Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease. Terrible for those that loved the person as much as they who slowly leave us. We don’t know its origin and though many are working on discovering where this comes from—we still have few answers. 

Except for a few people scattered around the country, a handful still in Tuscaloosa and a relative or two—Dorothy will be forgotten.  But we will remember the richness of most of her 88 years...and her smile and her quiet kindly ways.

And so Monday in Tuscaloosa I will open the blue leather-bound Bible with her name on it. I will read some of her favorite well-thumbed passages. I will  remind those that come how special she was and remember that old grace we sing about so often really is amazing. It took her all the way to the end—and now she is enveloped in love and peace.

Dorothy with her two nieces--she lived with them
 several years while they were young girls.

Dorothy Wheat Spitzer
November 11, 1926-February 23, 2015

--Roger Lovette /

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