Bea came to us four years ago. A frail wisp of a thing with a silly tuft of white frizz atop her head, a beakish nose, and very large eyes that didn't point in the same direction.
Pretty cute if one is inclined to find 90 year old ladies cute. I am so inclined.
I told her straight away how much I loved her name. So much so that I had a wee Bea of my own. She was tickled to hear it and looked forward to meeting the baby with her name.
With Bea that day was a younger woman of around 70, whom I assumed to be Bea's daughter;
"No. My husband and I wanted children. But they never came."
They never came.
I tend not to indulge in pity for a person's circumstances, but I always feel a pang of something when I meet an ancient to whom children never came.
The woman was Bea's youngest sister Eileen. Of eight children, Eileen was the baby, Bea an elder. When their mother passed away, Eileen was very young, and most of her mothering was left to Bea.
Children hadn't come to Eileen either. She visited her older Sister Mommy often and obviously adored her.
Another frequent visitor was the sisters' niece Ann Marie.
As much as the sisters were meek and mild and frail, Ann Marie was strong and bold and fierce. Some considered her quite the bitch.
They were correct.
She was my kind of bitch.
She demanded that Bea always look nice; hair done, outfits clean and matching. She made sure that Bea attended activities and socialized. She was on top of every medical issue that arose.
She did everything that a devoted daughter would have done for her beloved mother.
So when Bea began to fret, anxiously asking the walls;
"What am I going to do? Oh no. I don't know what to do. What am I going to do?"
every afternoon, for no apparent reason; Ann Marie sought relief for her Aunt.
The psychiatrist was called in. Medication was prescribed. Bea was snowed. Ann Marie stepped in.
The nurse pyschologist gave it a try. A new medication tried. A mostly sleeping Bea resulted. Ann Marie was displeased.
Ann Marie had an idea; if the doctor was willing to give an order for a daily dose:
Whisky and Water, served up in a blue plastic cup, was delivered to Bea each evening after supper.
She relaxed. She smiled. She giggled.
She learned which nurses made the best bartenders, and would seek me out for her Whiskey drink, placing her order before supper was served.
For two years the Whiskey kept Bea mostly happy, which made Ann Marie mostly happy.
On a Tuesday, Bea wasn't feeling well. Ann Marie approached me crying;
"She says she's dying. She wants all her sisters to come. Is she dying? Do you think she's dying?"
"No. I don't think she's dying. But if she thinks she is; believe her. Bring in the sisters."
By Saturday, Bea lay in bed, surrounded by sisters - dying.
Withered frames and faces, silly white tufts, sharp noses, big eyes; all echoes of the oldest sister.
After the goodbyes, I promised Ann Marie and Eileen that Bea wouldn't be alone. I wrapped up my shift, leaving myself an hour to sit.
Is a lovely thing, to sit in silence beside a flickering life.
Dying people are my favorite. That doesn't sound wrong in my head. Their needs as simple as a bottle of morphine and fellow human to see them off.
She left a few minutes after I put my forehead against hers and told her she was loved.
The following Wednesday, coworker Tracey and I crashed Bea's wake. Hugged all the sisters. Made Ann Marie cry.
We made a stop on the way home. A dark dive of a place. Pulled up a couple stools.
"What'll it be ladies?"
"Two shots of Jameson."
"And to Ann Maries everywhere!"