It has been raining for past few hours. From my office window the world is a grey tunnel with blinking brake lights and traffic signals. It isn’t spectacular yet it is a lovely day. To write. However, today my stories are still. I keep returning to Rose, a ninety-three year old patient who had a severe disability due to dementia. I met her six months ago through Hospice volunteer program.
Rose is in a wheelchair when I enter her room. She is staring at her hands and murmuring as if talking to a bird. She takes a few moments to move, as lightly as her voice would allow to take notice of me. Small and elegant with pale skin and bright silver strands, she starts talking about the rain as if I am an old acquaintance. We are off to a good start – I help her eat a banana, I watch TV with her and organize a few things. I talk as she falls asleep. I stare at the pink colored walls for a few moments before I see myself out.
In the hallway, I meet an Indian woman also on a wheelchair, eager to talk. She is recovering from a foot surgery. We chat. About stuff. About growing old and the perspective it brings. Outside the alcove of windows, there is a rustle of wind with stray drops.
I see Rose every few weekends for a few hours. I bring in crayons and we talk about identifying colors. She lights up at the sight of pink and red. Her brilliant and penetrating eyes defy her mental illness, every time she looks at me. And that inspires a certain timidity in me. Watching her in pink cardigan and cream trousers is like watching cherry blossoms – frail, beautiful and visible for a very short span. A few weeks, a month, maybe an hour. The leaves outside have changed colors, and I think her neurons are the same way – slowly eroding towards the winter of her life. There is nowhere to go except forward even if it is the end.
She often complains of pain in her hands. I massage them and the pain shifts. I can tell by the way she rolls her eyes and hypothetically walks away from me. I wait for her to come back. Sometimes it takes more than one visit.
On one visit while we are going over some magazines, she shouts Blue. And I am thrilled as she has not gone beyond pink and red. I smile and we do a high-five. Well, sort of. When it is time for me to leave, she grabs my hand. I know she wants me to stay longer. Instantly, I feel I will not see her again. In spite of my best efforts. I leave after half an hour. Outside, the Indian woman is waiting for me – we sit together for a bit. Mostly in silence. My hands smell of banana. My clothes carry a hint of Rose’s room. I know everything is meant to be lost in time.
It is a few months later, I find time to go back to Rose. I am excited. I am excited to have been proved wrong. I am about to leave and for some weird reason, I check my email. There is one from hospice coordinator.
Rose passed away peacefully yesterday night after being placed on continuous care.
I sit for a long time looking outside. There are colors – some blue, some red and a lot of grey and silver in between.