Yesterday I went to visit my friend, Nina V. Nina is 90-something years old. She lives in a residential care facility here in Oregon City that is wonderful--it is new construction, but it is designed to look like a big, older, rambling house with a couple of dining areas and a living room. Each resident has his or her own sitting room, bedroom, and bathroom, and the married couples have even larger spaces.
I first met Nina in January. I was assigned to be her visiting teacher, something Mormon women do on a regular basis. Each of us is assigned 3 or 4 women to visit each month, so that we can build friendships in a one-on-one way. We check in to see if there are needs and offer each other our friendship.
To be honest, I was a little nervous to visit Nina that first time. I hadn't met her before, and the care facility is tucked back behind another house, so it was difficult to find. I tried one evening and couldn't find it in the dark, and then another time I tried in the daylight. Mark was with me this time, and when we finally found Nina, we fell in love. She is sparkly and gracious. She has a mischievous sense of humor and a darling smile. Her apartment has a large window that looks out on a small garden, where she loves to look for the birds and the flowers. She spoke wistfully of the two small boys who used to live in the house behind hers, who she used to love to watch as they played in their backyard. Then they moved away, and she missed them.
As we chatted with her, she shared bits and pieces about her family. We had a little difficulty following the information, because she was a little confused about names and where people lived, but her joy in her family was evident. Then she mentioned that she had a son named Tony. Tony V? We used to teach with a Tony V! Sure enough, Nina is our friend Tony's mother. In the years we had worked with Tony before he retired, he never mentioned a Mormon connection in his life, but we could see the same joy and sparkle in her eyes that we had known for years in Tony's. Of course they were related - we could see it right away.
When I arrived home after that first visit, I called Tony to let him know that Mark and I had visited his mother, and that we would be doing so at least once a month. The phone call was important to me in two ways: I was glad to reconnect with Tony, who I hadn't seen since his retirement several years earlier, and I was relieved to make a connection with a family member, since I wasn't sure if Nina would be able to explain who we were or why we had visited her. She had been raised as a Mormon girl, but she had married outside of the church, and her main contact over the years had been through various visiting teachers. Tony, naturally protective of his aged mother in regards to proselyting visits, was reassured to know that it was "just us," and that we weren't trying to re-convert her, but just to be friends in these later years of her life.
Tony cautioned me that his mother's health was unpredictable. She had recently rallied, but the family had connected with the local hospice group a while back, to help Nina and the family with her journey through cancer.
I have tried to always bring a little something for Nina when I have visited. A little flower plant to join the garden outside her window, a Valentines card or a Mother's Day card. When I brought her Mother's Day card to her earlier this month, she was having difficulty walking, and she was more confused than before. She thanked me for the card, then turned to her son, who was visiting, and asked him, "Is my mother still living?"
Yesterday afternoon I felt like I should make an extra visit this month. I stopped by the care facility on my way to do some grocery shopping, and met two more of her sons and a daughter-in-law. They are here from out of state. Another one, the one I met before Mother's Day, also lives out of state, and he is on his way back to Oregon for the second time this month. The family is gathering.
Even though these family members hadn't met me before, the sense of humor in their welcome made it immediately evident that these men, too, were Nina's sons. "I'm the handsome one," one of them chuckled, as he introduced his brother to me. They explained that Nina hadn't been awake yet all day, and I started to excuse myself, not wanting to intrude or be a bother. "Oh, no," the handsome one said. "If you can wake her, that would be a good thing. Go ahead and try."
I slipped into Nina's room, where she was curled on her side in her bed. Someone had tucked the blankets neatly around her, and there was a small towel on her pillow next to her mouth. Her face, lying down, in sleep, without her usual smile, seemed tired and far away. I took her hand and rubbed it softly, and said cheerfully, "Nina, sweetheart, it's Kathy. The flowers outside your window are beautiful, and the sun is shining." No response. I hesitated a moment, then lay her hand back on the covers. Her breathing was light and peaceful as I turned away.