A Final Bath- Thank You
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A Maaseh is a story in Hebrew. In Yiddish we say that we will share a Mayseh, a story.
Here is one of Irma G's final stories. It's a Mayseh about mom, but it more of a Mayseh about
as act of Chesed, of lovingkindness, performed the day before she left this earth.
Irma had a bad last two months. Her behavior, due to her dementia, was increasingly out of control. After an act which disturbed the peace in the dining room of the memory unit, we were told that we had no choice other than sending mom to the ER in order to do "a fix" on her behavior. The short version of the following four weeks included a week in the hospital, following by a transfer to the geriatric psych unit of MacLeans Hospital for three miserable weeks, followed by a short lived return to the memory unit at her assisted living facility, followed by contracting the flu and a return to the hospital. After some degree of recovery she was released back to her home at the her facility, but the cough which she returned with worsened and worsened along with her confusion. One day, about two weeks after she returned to the memory unit, she woke up one morning after another in a long series of sleepless nights. She took her pills, said she was tired and then never awoke again. Five days after she began the dying process, she left this world quietly and peacefully.
That's mom's ending story. It is not a pretty one, but I don't think that ending stories are ever pretty. I want this story to be about an act of lovingkindness that I was fortunate to witness and will never forget.
Mom always was fastidious about her self care. She brushed her teeth with gusto, loved her showers, vigorously washed her face, applied creams and gels to keep her skin young and even until shortly before her final weeks, loved to apply lipstick. Keeping clean was evidence of her zest for life. During her final weeks she forgot how to care for herself, so caregivers took over these small actions that give a person self respect and dignity.
The day before mom passed, one of the personal care assistants came to her room to bathe her. He was a young man who wore jeans and a knit cap on his head and I had witnessed his positive interactions with residents for the weeks that mom was on the memory care floor. Only a week before, she had angrily rejected this young man when she demanded someone bathe her but now mom lay sleeping, no longer responding to those around her, unable to scold or reject this care attendant's offers to help. My brothers and other guests left the room and I stayed with the young man with the knit cap who proceeded to bathe mom. With professionalism, sensitivity and respect, he deftly bathed her from head to toe, gently turning her from side to side. He spoke gently to her as he bathed her, "Miss Irma, I am going to wash your arms now" or "Miss Irma, I am going to turn you over now so I can wash your back." His actions were those of a ballet dancer, confident and gliding yet at the same time, he performed a simple religious act, a final act of respect to mom's aliveness, to her humanity. Mom's physical body, the temple that had housed her soul for 96 years was receiving a final act cleaning. I was grateful to be present to witness of this act of kindness and I wept tears of sorrow, but also tears of gratitude to this man for his professionalism, his calm and caring.
This was not the only act of kindness and sensitivity my mother received during her final year. There were scores of nurses, healthcare aides, waiters, administrators, nurses and nursing assistants who showed patience with her even when she wasn't able to pay them back with pleasant comments and thanks. There were workers at her assisted living facility who hugged her, laughed with her, bought her lipstick, patiently redirected her anger. Each of them showed respect for her as not just as an elderly person, but as a human being, deserving of care and consideration. I was humbled by these workers, by their faith in God, by their faith in humanity. They epitomized what it means to put 100% into their work. They were not just talking the talk of torah, of God, but they were walking the walk.
We have heard the tragic news over the past month of assisted living facilities being torn apart by this virus. Children are not able to see their parents who live there. For people living with dementia, who no longer understand the value of quarantine and why they must be alone, this must be a time of great suffering as they do not comprehend why these things are happening. My mind keeps going back to mom's last days, to her final bath while she lived and the gentleman (and I mean this in the truest sense of the word, gentle-man) who bathed her as she lay dying. I believe that his actions speak for the thousands of people who work as he do, in facilities that care for the aged, the infirm and disabled and for these thousands of acts of lovingkindness that these kind people perform each day, before, during and after this period of great national calamity. We as a society must be eternally and forever grateful for each of these acts and never take them for granted.
Thank you, kind sir, our knight in the knit cap, for your infinite kindness to Irma Gershkowitz, to Hadara bat Avram v'Rose, one human being, our mother on her deathbed. You are my symbol of caregivers during this time. Thank you.