Jun 1st 2008

A death in Vermont

Posted in Izzy, Other

Sunset, Callaway Road, Argyle, N.Y.
Sunset, Callaway Road, Argyle, N.Y.

June 1, 2008 – A county health worker called me early Sunday morning to ask a favor. She knew a woman in Pawlet, Vt., the mother of a friend, who was critically ill and very near the end, she thought, and who said before she died, she would like to meet Izzy, who she had heard about from her daughter, who worked at a nursing home in Washington County, where Izzy had been. And the woman had seen his picture, perhaps in a newspaper, or perhaps in a book.
The woman was quite alone, and wonderful, said the health worker,  and, like many of the people in the realm of the dying, seemed to have been forgotten by the rest of her world. Her pastor came by once a week, and one of her neighbors checked on her. Her daughter did the best she could, but was holding down two jobs and has a sick child of her own to worry about.
The woman was not in Hospice, unfortunately, so did not have social workers, health aides and nurses and volunteers helping or visiting her. Could I possibly make time to visit her? she asked apologetically. I wasn’t sure. It’s not generally a good idea to do that. I’m not covered by any insurance if I visit homes privately, and have no support, either in terms of nursing care or social workers. The one or two times I’ve visited people out of Hospice have been uncomfortable, for different reasons, mostly because the conditions are not always good, and I can’t do anything about it.
Still, I knew this health worker, who had met Izzy many times,  and she was nice and assured me the conditions were good, and something in her voice made me say yes, so Izzy and I went to Vermont mid-afternoon and came to a neat old clapboard on a quiet dirt road. We knocked and heard a soft, weak voice ask us in. Marjorie was lying on a hospital bed in the middle of the living room. She was pale and dawn, and ghostly thin in a way I recognized from other Hospice visits, and she smiled when she saw Izzy, who she recognized. “Izzy,” she said, “I am glad you came.” I got Izzy up into the bed, and Marjorie was smiling more, as I had seen happen so often before, and Izzy, ever the intuitive, seemed to know his way around this home, and this person, and burrowed his head under her hand and the two of them lay frozen in that special time and place for what seemed the longest time, but what was only 10 or 15 minutes, I think.
We talked for a few minutes, but Marjorie was, I could see, exhausted. There was no one else in the house, which troubled me, and would not have happened under Hospice care. I have been trained in Hospice to never be judgmental about patients or their families, and I honor that, but it is painful for me to see people dying alone.
I went out to the car and left a photo of Izzy, said goodbye, promised to come back. I said I was glad to have met her, and I was. She told me in the brief time we talked that she had been a painter at one point in her life, and a photographer, so we got to talk about that, and we talked easily. Two or three faded but beautiful black and white photos were framed on the wall, and I think they were hers.
“I always had a dog, and loved them,” said Marjorie. “I heard about Izzy and I wanted to meet  him. Thanks. He is wonderful.” Yes, I said, he is.
Marjorie was weak and exhausted, and I could see the county worker was right, that she was very ill.
At 8:30 p.m. her daughter called to thank us for coming, and to tell me her mother had died a few hours after we had left, and she was with her, she said, when she passed. I was glad of that.