© Rhonda Hayward TC Media
Atlantic Nights Chapter 5
Up on the third floor of the new care unit, Helen was sleeping.
“Timing is everything, and your mom’s timing is unfortunate, but in some ways it’s great,” the administrator told them. “I don’t mean to be blunt, but sometimes someone dies at the right time, and a bed opens up. We’ve got a new crew of nurses starting too, so suddenly more spots. Three weeks from now, you might not be so lucky. Maybe not even a week from now.”
The trip to the hospital had turned into a trip to a new extended-care facility — almost instantaneously. Helen had a room before the doctors and staff even finished telling her children how unusual it was for space to open up: “Normally it takes months,” they said.
The big rectangular windows looked down towards Quidi Vidi Lake in the east end of St. John’s. The lake was half-frozen, caught over with thin ice and dusted with snow, except for one end where the river came in, and a long split in the middle where another stream roiled the water’s surface, running in fast from the side. The moon was up high in the black winter sky.
Helen’s children were talking in the hall.
“The coffee pots were completely taken apart, everything lined up on paper towel like someone taking apart a car transmission,” Sarah said. “This isn’t like when she mistakes you for her sister or when she tells you she’s spent the day with a neighbor who died a decade ago. This isn’t just forgetting last Thursday: this is dangerous. Sometimes she’s clear as a bell, but overall, it’s getting worse.”
“She doesn’t want to be here,” Donna said.
“We can’t keep staying with her at the house,” Dennis said. “You know that, and Sarah knows that better than anyone.” He turned to Sarah: “You’ve got everything on hold out there, your whole life — I don’t know how you’re keeping your bosses at bay, you can’t have any vacation or sick time left — and it’s not like she’s going to suddenly get any better. She can only get worse.”
“But what if she doesn’t get worse, not right away? And on the other side, if we take her home and she does get worse, what if we can’t get her back in?” Sarah said.
“We can’t just wait until she burns the house down or something. And how many times do we have to tell her about Dad?” Donna said. “I can’t stand seeing her break down every single day — but she keeps asking where he is.”
“What the hell else can we do?” Dennis said.
Sarah sat up, straightened her shoulders.
“There’s got to be a more humane way to do this,” she said. “What if we just tell her something else? Make something up. She’s 20 or 30 years back a lot of the time anyway. Every morning seems to be a fresh slate.”
“What do you want to tell her?”
“We’ll just tell her he’s back on the road. We can all tell stories: we learned from a master. Dad couldn’t make up a fairy tale about a dragon without telling you the colour of its scales and eyes and letting you know when its mood changed. Channel that.”
Dennis looked unconvinced.
“If anyone’s going be the first to tell her something, then it’s going to be you,” he said.
“Ok,” Sarah said. “But when you’re telling her about Dad, use lots of detail. Keep her mind moving so she doesn’t have time for questions you don’t want to answer.”
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