By Attorney David Engler
Wanda and Stella
Wanda is my Mom. Parkinson’s disease has slowly but assuredly taken her strength and her voice. The stroke on the Royal Wedding Day this spring did not help matters either. But as the New Year approaches she is in the Maine Veterans Home. She does not want to see her 86th year. She has prayed to her husband and my father, Bill who passed 21 years ago, that she wanted nothing more to do with her worn body. They met 59 years ago. She was a nurse at the VA hospital in Cleveland and he was a disabled vet getting a degree at Kent State.
Stella is 93 and cancer is fighting her will and she knows the battle is nearly over. The last great battle she saw was working as an Army nurse in England helping to heal GI’s as they returned from Normandy. Not coincidentally she married a soldier whom she met a few years later and he took her to Maine. Over time she would have two children and help turn a family owned bar and grill into a large seafood wholesaler specializing in selling Lobsters, of course. The great irony Stella explained was that she could never taste what her family sold because she was allergic to shell fish which should not be confused with seafood.
About 15 months ago we moved Mom from her home in Ohio to live on the first floor of my sister’s home in Maine. She was falling and insisted that she could care for herself; the reality was she could not make the one step from the living room to the kitchen.
So off to Maine she went. The state motto is “Life As It Ought To Be”. My sister is busy with an 8 year old adopted Chinese whirlwind named Molly and a professorship at the U of Maine. Three 911 calls in 6 months and it was clear that Mom needed nursing home care. So in May of this last year she gets put in a room with Stella. Stella’s hair is wispy from the many chemo treatments she received to slow down cancer’s assault. Long before the cancer her hearing went. She seems to fill in the words if you can talk loud enough. Mom had one good eye before the stroke and Parkinson’s and now that one went bad. Reading and watching the news was a daily companion, now she can just listen to Ann Curry.
The room looks like any other nursing home. Cards crowd the bulletin boards and the closet door is a backdrop of art work created by grandchildren. What makes the room a home is each other. The nurses and aides see the two holding hands trying to make sense of a death that is unscheduled but waiting. It was Stella who told the staff that she and Wanda have a pact that they would like to hold hands and race into heaven together. The spunky nurse from Portugal attracted to Maine by her country’s fishing heritage, said “It was more like a turtle race to Heaven”, since neither seemed closer to the end despite their bodies having months ago failed.
So it was on Christmas Day this year that I traveled to surprise my Mom. At first she did not recognize me. I have heard how hard that is to hear. But after a few minutes she asked about each of the kids that she raised when they were small and that I feed her a favorite dark chocolate mint from Philadelphia Chocolates. It was my favorite Christmas memory. And what I took home was this picture I snapped with my iPhone that neither old nurse could have imagined. A new friend was made in what will surely be their last year on this Earth. It is the power of a touch of a hand and someone that cares when you least expect it.