Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Hospice Card: What Will I tell Her When He's Gone?

“What’s that green card?” my mother asks. She is diabetic and has Alzheimer’s.

“What?” asks my father. He is deaf in one ear and has impaired hearing in the other.

“The green card…” she says softly at first and then, “THE GREEN CARD!”

“What green card?” my father asks.

“It says Mercy Hospice,” she prompts.

The card in question is taped to a list of emergency numbers and attached to the wall next to the calendar. It tells the hours of operation of Mercy Hospice for weekdays from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and after hours, weekends and holidays. It gives phone numbers for each time frame and says to ask for the nurse on call. The card is for my dad. He has a cancerous tumor on his brain stem. The doctor’s gave him 5 ½ months to live 6 ½ months ago.

“Hot spice?” he says, teasing my mother with his favorite vernacular for Hospice. He likes word games.

“Hospice. HOSPICE!” My mother says the words slowly and loudly. “What is it for?”

My father gets up from the couch, and shakily walks across the living room to the calendar wall. He nearsightedly fumbles with the various papers and cards taped to the wall around the calendar.

“Green. GREEN!” barks my mother. “Why is it there?”

“Hot spice.” My father says as he finds the neon green card.

In a split second, he makes a decision to spare his forgetful wife of 55 years the truth of the matter. It brings tears to my eyes as I stand in the kitchen, cooking breakfast for them.

“I don’t know.” he says, “You expect me to know everything?”

“Well, that’s why I MARRIED YOU. Now, you DISAPPOINT ME.” She says teasingly, punctuating the last two words of every sentence by yelling them, a recent symptom of her Alzheimer’s.

I swallow the lump in my throat. Even though she is teasing like she always has, the message is hurtful when put in perspective. He doesn’t tell her so he can save her from hurt. She says the thing that hurts, because she is unaware of his dire situation.

And I wonder what I will tell her when he is gone.

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