SILVER LINING CHRONICLES - GROWING OLD IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART

SILVER LINING CHRONICLES  -

GROWING OLD IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART

 

Dr. Oz says that a heart will beat for as long as it has reason to.

This is one woman's story.

 

In March, 2011, I was asked by a charitable organization if I was available to provide companionship to an elderly woman who had recently taken residence in a care facility  Armed with a natural affinity towards seniors and a long-forgotten college internship at a local nursing home, I agreed. I was told this patient had indicated a desire to be read to and on the first day, I brought a book with me intending to pass our first hour just this way. When I arrived, it was immediately clear to me that this patient was in poorer health than I had originally been led to believe and the book never came out of my purse that first day and never came back on subsequent visits. 

Natalie Yohay

Her name was Natalie and I continued my weekly visits throughout the spring, summer and fall of that year. Sometimes I'd arrive to find her in fitful sleep and, essentially, unaware that I was there. Other times, I'd enter her room to learn she was off to a doctor's appointment for tests or to the hospital for some brief observation. A couple of times, she rather pointedly asked me to leave as "she felt embarrassed and didn't want me to see her this way." Naturally, I understood and complied.

About 6 weeks in, for her 91st birthday, I walked into her room carrying a bouquet of flowers. Her eyes showed recognition but she was too weak to smile. "Happy Birthday," I said and sat down besides her. "Enough," she whispered, "no more birthdays." I looked into her eyes and nodded imperceptibly. I knew just what she meant and I didn't try to change her mind or point out all the great times she still had ahead of her.

Natalie was very ill and in constant pain with various ailments. Breathing was labored with only one lung and sitting was difficult with pins in her hips. Going anywhere was tedious since she was often hooked up to machines. To avoid causing any harm to her fragile bones, moving her from bed to wheelchair took several large men and a bizarre, orchestrated maneuver with a sheet.  A swallowing difficulty forced the nursing home to keep her on a diet of pureed foods. An accomplished cook, she hated this liquid nourishment and, more often than not, refused to eat anything at all.

At some point, we discovered through conversation, the most amazing coincidence. Her grandson and my daughter were both getting married on the same day, at the same place and time. The venue could accommodate more than one wedding party and August 14, 2011 was to be a memorable day for the both of us.

From that day forward, we spoke of little else. Every visit began with a countdown of how many months (and then weeks and days) were left before the Big Day! Through several setbacks, it kept her going. She was determined to be around for this very special occasion. She had a strong will to live.

"I'm very sick, I'm not having a good day," she said to me. With the perfect timing of a professional comedienne, she added, "Yesterday wasn't so good either," and I smiled broadly. Though it wasn't meant to be a joke, it came off sounding like one and I responded in kind. "How sick can you be if you're still making jokes?"

Through all the hardships, there were times I could still see the spirited and stubborn Natalie. I learned that in her younger days, she was a union organizer and that little tidbit of information certainly rang true with the woman I came to know. During Natalie's last few months in the nursing home, when the pain seemed to be taking its toll or, perhaps, as a way of bringing attention to herself (we really never knew), she acquired the particularly unsettling behavior of screaming at odd times. I suppose she didn't want anyone to forget that she was there and she was suffering.

On one occasion, when she was admonished by the nursing staff to be quiet as she was annoying all the other patients in the cafeteria, she stopped abruptly and comically retorted, "Oh, I would think they'd look forward to it." At that unexpected response, I laughed to a point where the entire lunch staff on duty felt the need to shoot me dirty looks, a reaction which I perfectly understood. Way back when, when my children were little, I could often be heard saying , "Don't encourage him/her as a follow-up to various childish antics."

One day, after her 3rd hospital visit in a relatively short period of time, I visited and found she really wasn't herself - lethargic, uncommunicative and barely able to stay awake. Knowing that music can bring you back to another place and time, I asked her what songs she liked to listen to. She whispered she didn't listen to any but I persisted. "What did you like when you were younger? What did you dance to at your wedding?" That's when she suddenly remembered, "Oh, How We Danced." The Anniversary Song. She was happily married for more than 50 years to her husband, before his passing, but she spoke of him often. She missed him very much.

With the miracle of technology, I pulled out my smart phone and brought up Al Jolson's version on YouTube. I put it to her left ear but she couldn't hear it. Knowing that one ear is generally stronger than the other in hearing impaired individuals, I switched to her right. Now she could hear. The first 10-15 seconds were agonizing. I saw her face contort with pain as she listened and remembered the lyrics she had not heard in such a long time.

She threw her head back and sobbed dry and silent tears. Her unexpected and extreme reaction frightened me and I almost pulled the phone away. After just a few more seconds, the emotional turmoil she was obviously experiencing passed. In place of pain, there was peace and it was explicitly displayed on her face. She closed her eyes and was, clearly, transported to more youthful, vibrant days. I could see her mind was flooded with memories. She listened all the way until the end of the song and never opened her eyes again during that visit.  Then, she fell asleep.

At long last, the wedding day arrived.  Preparation was hectic and grew increasingly more stressful as we received 10 1/2 inches of torrential downpour and widespread flooding on what should have been a glorious summer's eve. The ceremonies meant to be held outdoors were moved inside but, even with these adjustments, the weddings were beautiful as these things always are.  Natalie, who traveled to and from the catering hall by ambulette and needed a caregiver by her side the entire time, enjoyed a front row seat at her grandson's ceremony and managed to stay for several hours before succumbing to fatigue. She was very proud.

For several weeks thereafter, Natalie and I poured over wedding photos and discussed every little nuance of the affairs until it became obvious that there was nothing left to say. Briefly, we considered setting a new goal such as the birth of a grandchild/great grandchild but we quickly rejected that target as impractical and ultimately, too far away in the future.

Afterwards, there was a noticeable change in her demeanor. With nothing new to aim for, her fighting spirit was gone. One day she fell from her bed and the broken leg she suffered landed her in a hospital. In a cast that weighed almost as much as she did, Natalie was miserable. While her doctors planned for an operation, she retreated into herself.

The last time I saw Natalie, she refused to speak to me or make any eye contact. For 45 minutes, I sat on her hospital bed and held her hand. Occasionally, a nurse would wander in, observe her behavior and offer the unsolicited information that "her vitals were strong." I said nothing but knew instinctively that it wasn't enough . When it was time to leave, I kissed her. It was only then that she looked at me and mouthed the words, "I'm sorry."

On my way home, I felt unusually sad. I was overcome with the urge to hum the tune associated with one of David's Psalms - The Lord is my shepherd...As I repeated it over and over, louder and stronger, tears rolled down my face and driving became difficult. I arrived home and announced to my family that I would not be seeing Natalie again. I felt certain she would pass away before my next visit.

The week went by without incident or notification and I'd begun thinking I'd made a mistake. Clearly, timing this crucial was never meant to be in our control. Before long, it was Monday afternoon and, time again, for my trip to the hospital. Unexpectedly, my daughter came home from school and asked if I could give her a lift somewhere she needed to be. I agreed, deciding that since all was going well, I could just as easily delay my visit until the next day.

Heading home, my cell phone rang and my daughter responded to the call. Together, we learned that this lovely lady had left us in the previous hour. Her son was by her side.  Without divine intervention, I would have been there as well, as all this transpired during what would have been my regular visiting hour. It was an incredibly difficult and emotional time and belonged only to the immediate family. Natalie and I had already said our goodbyes.

On an unusually tranquil November day, replete with brilliant sunshine and warmish temps, we buried the woman whose brief presence in my life left a dramatic impact. I miss her terribly but, I'm also pleased that, after all the complications Natalie endured in her last year, she was finally granted her only wish - there would be no more birthdays.

 

 

 

No matter how you spend your day, come home to this

 


 

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Reach me @516.395.8376

 

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CHARLES RUTENBERG REALTY INC.  *****  516-575-7500  *****

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Graduate REALTOR Institute 

Jill Sackler, NYS Real Estate Broker Associate based on Long Island's South Shore
 
 

Sunny Isles, Fl 

 

  

     Specializing in Lifecycle Real Estate Transitions

"When your family doesn't fit your family home, I can help."
 
 
 
 
 
   
   

   

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©Jill Sackler 2010
 

 

Comment balloon 24 commentsJill Sackler • March 20 2012 05:31PM

Comments

Jill what a beautiful story.  My mom passed away two years ago next week at the age of 95.  Her last few years were difficult for me.  Her physcial helath wasn't bad but her mental helath was gone.  But just like Natalie when the spark was there through music or photos it was a joy to see her eye sparkle for just a minute or two.

Posted by Cindy Jones, Pentagon, Fort Belvoir & Quantico Real Estate News (Integrity Real Estate Group) over 8 years ago

Thanks, Cindy. I'm happy you had your mom until she was 95 years old. It's always hard at the end. We can choose to remember them the way they were when they were younger.

Posted by Jill Sackler, LI South Shore Real Estate - Broker Associate (Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. 516-575-7500) over 8 years ago

I'm glad she had your company and it sounds like her family included her in the important events.  Life of course is priceless, but like Natalie knew, there comes a point in time where just being alive is not as important as living. 

Posted by Leslie G. Rojohn, GRI, ABR ~ MoonDancer Realty (MoonDancer Realty) over 8 years ago

Jill, Read through your whole chronicle and I'm sure it wasn't easy for you to write. You put all your thoughts together beautifully and told such an amazing detailed story. Kudos to you and glad Natalie had you at such an important time of her life... Sheila

Posted by Lawrence "Larry" & Sheila Agranoff. Cell: 631-805-4400, Long Island Home and Condo Specialists (The Top Team @ Charles Rutenberg Realty 255 Executive Dr, Plainview NY 11803) over 8 years ago

Hi Leslie - That's a very profound statement. I may want to tackle it in the future and risk alienating at least half the world's population regardless of my position on the matter.

Dear Sheila - Thanks for taking the time to read through it. I knew the length would be an obstacle but there didn't seem to be any way to make the story shorter. I considered sending it out in 3 parts, at natural break points, but I was worried about the flow.

You're right about how long it took me. I started it over a month ago but had to keep walking away. I would write a couple of paragraphs and then not return for a week. I wrote the ending before I wrote the 4 paragraphs that came before it. They were the hardest for me to get down. I appreciate your support.

Posted by Jill Sackler, LI South Shore Real Estate - Broker Associate (Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. 516-575-7500) over 8 years ago

Jill, I am somewhat gruff on the outside, too.  And, you are just as kind with me as you were with Natalie.  You have a great heart, and I am sure that you gave her a great deal of comfort.  She knew what she wanted and that was to leave with at least some dignity still left.  You provided her with companionship, fun and a reason to live longer than she had probably planned.  You will meet the younger Natalie again, and you two will have even more joy! 

I am sure that everyone who reads this is grateful for your comfort of this one lovely soul. 

Posted by Ron Marshall, Birdhouse Builder Extraordinaire (Marshall Enterprises) over 8 years ago

Ron, you write incredibly well and I always enjoy your posts. Thank you for all your kind words and encouragement always. I value all my AR friendships.

Natalie and I were there for each other. Often, the visit was the best part of my week.

Posted by Jill Sackler, LI South Shore Real Estate - Broker Associate (Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. 516-575-7500) over 8 years ago

Jill - itis long and I read every sentence, and every word, and listened to the song, and it gave me some comfort. It is a peacuful as it is disturbingly difficult. We do not want to die early, and it is scary to live long.

Natalie reminded me my mom. At her funeral (and she died at 68), her friends said that she was lucky. She worked till she died and she died on the run. Was running around the apartment helping a friend and fell dead...

Maybe her friends were rihgt... Sudden death is easy death

But for me she went way too early...

Thank you

Posted by Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL, Buy Daytona condos for heavenly good prices (Daytona Condo Realty, 386-405-4408) over 8 years ago

Hi Jill: Life is indeed is  a certainty of uncertainties. I can feel the sadness in your writing. When I was a volunteer at a Hospice Center, my patient left suddenly and prior to her sudden demise, I did not see any signs of her going away.

Posted by Maria Gilda Racelis, Home Ownership is w/in Reach. We Make it Happen! (Home Buyers Realty, LLC-Manchester, Bolton. Vernon,Ellington) over 8 years ago

Jon - I'm so sorry you mom passed away so early. It was easy on her but much harder on all the people she left behind who loved her. Once I lived across the street from an elderly neighbor. One day, she went out to the mailbox, retrieved her mail, sat down at the kitchen table to read it, put her head down for a second and died. For the last 20 years, I've always said to anyone who would listen to me that that's how I wanted to go.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I agonized over the length.

Posted by Jill Sackler, LI South Shore Real Estate - Broker Associate (Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. 516-575-7500) over 8 years ago

Maria - If you spent time in a hospice center, then you certainly do know. There are no guarantees of anything in life. Several months have gone by. I kept meaning to write this but I put it off for a while. I knew it would be tough to go back in time and dig up all the old memories and the emotions that come with them.

Posted by Jill Sackler, LI South Shore Real Estate - Broker Associate (Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. 516-575-7500) over 8 years ago

When I think about it, I do not know what I am afraid of more: being physically in bad shape, immobilized, or being challenged mentally. Both scares the heck out of me.

I wtill think Dr Kervorkian could be the best thing when you get old. People say it is cruel to do it to people, but I think it is more cruel not to if people do not want to lose dignity in the way they leave the world

Posted by Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL, Buy Daytona condos for heavenly good prices (Daytona Condo Realty, 386-405-4408) over 8 years ago

Dr. Kevorkian died several years ago, interestingly enough, a natural death.

Posted by Jill Sackler, LI South Shore Real Estate - Broker Associate (Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. 516-575-7500) over 8 years ago

This was a very telling story, Jill.  I know that you will miss her as if she were a part of your family.  You both gave great gifts to one another.  And, she will continue to give you more as you age yourself.  Isn't that a precious gift?

Posted by Suzanne McLaughlin, Sabinske & Associates, Realtor (Sabinske & Associates, Inc. (Albertville, St. Michael)) over 8 years ago

He died from thrombosis, and from being hospitalized to death it took only 2 weeks. It was going too quick. I am sure he would retort to suicide if he had to endure long and painful death.

BTW, do you know that he also was a jazz musician and composer, and a serious one. Plus he was an artist, fond of oil painting.

Quite a personality

Posted by Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL, Buy Daytona condos for heavenly good prices (Daytona Condo Realty, 386-405-4408) over 8 years ago

Jill, this is a beautiful story of your friendship with Natalie. I really enjoyed reading it. Natalie was blessed to have you as her friend during the last months of her life. I'm sure you touched her life just as she touched yours. Thank you for sharing this lovely story!

Posted by Rose King, Friendswood / Pearland / Houston Bay Area (David Tracy Real Estate) over 8 years ago

Hi Jill, this is a well written story and I read it all and listened to the song, which I did not know before. Thanks for writing this, I hope it was theraputic for you.

Posted by Sandy Acevedo, RE/MAX Masters, Inland Empire Homes for Sale (951-290-8588) over 8 years ago

Hi Jon - Someone did their research. I didn't know he was so accomplished. Thanks for all the great info.

Rose, I really appreciate you taking the time to read it. Thanks so much.

Sandy, Thank you. It was, indeed, therapeutic for me. It's a beautiful wedding song.

Posted by Jill Sackler, LI South Shore Real Estate - Broker Associate (Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. 516-575-7500) over 8 years ago

Jill - a very touching heartfelt story that brings one to tears ..... they say music touches the soul and it is obvious it touched Natalie's ..... A friend has a series of cd's she has created for the various stages of life. We played her music for my Mom and left it by her bed in the hospital and the nursing home when she was restless or stressed the nurses would play her music and she would calm right down.

"Music may be most powerful at end of life. The capacity music has to connect, communicate and companion makes it a peaceful presence for those facing an end of life journey. When we are overcome by grief and sorrow, music offers solace." room217

Posted by Kathy Clulow, Trusted For Experience - Respected For Results (RE/MAX All-Stars Realty Inc. Brokerage) over 8 years ago

Thank you, Kathy, for your equally touching response. I appreciate the thought that went into it. I believe everything you said about music to be true. I'm glad your mom found peace at the end.

Posted by Jill Sackler, LI South Shore Real Estate - Broker Associate (Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. 516-575-7500) over 8 years ago

What a nice tribute to your friend.  Ron's blog sent me over to read this.  It was very touching.  Thank you for the inspiration.

Posted by Don Sabinske, Sabinske & Associates Inc. (Don Sabinske, Sabinske & Associates Inc.) over 8 years ago

Thank you Don. I appreciate your kind words.

Posted by Jill Sackler, LI South Shore Real Estate - Broker Associate (Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. 516-575-7500) over 8 years ago

Jill:  I am just sitting here.  I'm almost "frozen."  It is rare that I am at a loss for words.  What a great, and immeasurably touching story you have shared.  And so many insightful comments have followed.  I mean, talk about therapeutic... this post, and the comments... deliver just that.

I could probably respond to many, many of the comments above.  Such depth to everything that was said.  But, then again, maybe just given the right situation, perhaps similar mental and emotional responses could be enticed from just about anyone who would take the time to read this.  In our hidden, quiet moments... thoughts can run pretty deep. 

Sure, in some ways... our human'ness makes us different... but in oh so many other ways... it can easily weave us together as one family.

Leslie's quote in #3 was just so touching.  It is so true that there DOES come a time when simply being alive is not as important as living.

And you, my friend.  I am so glad you gave your "sharing" of Natalie the length it needed to "speak" to us.  Anything less would have been to shortchange.

Thanks so much for searching out, and for including the "Oh How We Danced" video.  Although I was happy you shared it, it brought tears from all the way down in my soul... in my "being."  But, that's not a bad thing, because it fits in so well with what Leslie had to say.

I would love to have you share the thoughts you alluded to in comment #5 about where Leslie's thoughts took you.  Heck... so you alienate a few billion people.  If they don't agree with, or cannot at least appreciate your sharing your most intimate thoughts on this... they weren't worth it in the first place.

Again... of what Leslie had to say... it's something that goes through my own mind so very often these days.

I cannot end this comment without thanking Ron Marshall.  He wrote such a dear post about you and this post of yours.  So, thanks, Ron.  And Jill... I'm even thinking about "unsubscribing" from your blog just so I could subscribe again... if that makes sense.  You are such a dear.  Take care...      "suggested"

Posted by Karen Anne Stone, Fort Worth Real Estate (New Home Hunters of Fort Worth and Tarrant County) over 8 years ago

Dear Karen Anne,

Actually it's you who leaves me speechless. You always put so much thought into your comments, it's never just a line or two. Just reading what you had to say brought tears to my eyes all over again. I had another dear friend pass away just last week from a brain tumor. She was someone I worked with many years ago and we continued to keep in touch way after we had both left that office. I already miss her quite a bit. It's all very sad but, as we age, we start to realize it's not a question of if but when and how. I would never have thought this in m youth. Is this the wisdom they speak of? Can I exchange it for something more practical like a toaster?

As long as there's a tomorrow, there's always hope. We don't know what the next day will bring. We don't know. I'm sorry, Karen Anne, that there are no easy answers to any of this. Someday, I'll write that article.

 

Posted by Jill Sackler, LI South Shore Real Estate - Broker Associate (Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. 516-575-7500) over 8 years ago

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