Tag Archives: They Live On

Last Dance

Club Maplewood, they called it. A dance at the nursing home, complete with disco lights, a Tom Jones-type performer, ginger-ale champagne, and a wide-open dance floor. A dance floor lined with 70 walkers and wheelchairs.

As part of the entertainment, there are expert ballroom dancers performing choreographed routines. They twirl each other around the dance floor as the wheelchair-bound residents sit, solemn-faced, on the sidelines and watch. My discomfort is palpable. How cruel to subject the residents to this spectacle! Do the fancy dancers realize that although they might be superior in their abilities now, the same fate might befall them someday? I am convinced that this so-called “dance” is a bad idea. A really bad idea. I want to leave and take my dad with me.

Then the magic begins to unfold, like a scene from the movie Cocoon. People start to tap their feet and clap their hands. The performer sings to the elderly women, and they swoon. And slowly, other dancers join the pros on the dance floor. The aides work the room, holding up those with walkers who move slowly but in time to the rhythm. Wheelchairs begin to appear, and residents are twirled by partners with two good legs.

I realize at this moment that there is a dancer in every one of us, no matter our age, and even when the flesh gets weak, the spirit remains willing.

The scene is not lost on my father. He comments on how good the dancers are, looking at me intently. “Do you want to dance?” I ask him hesitantly. “No,” he says, giving me a moment of relief before adding, “Unless you want to?”

With much reservation, I wheel my dad onto the now-crowded dance floor. We start to dance, this little man “standing” three feet high in his wheelchair and me in my high heels and business suit. We dance the jitterbug, holding both hands and moving back and forth. Despite his diminished stature, he insists on leading and on twirling me, for which I have to stoop considerably. He grins.

Cameras flash. The scene is nothing less than extraordinary. We dance for the rest of the evening until the last song: Last Dance. And there, at the nursing home disco, I dance what is likely to be my last dance with my father. His eyes sparkle; mine fill with tears.

While I am tired, my father could have kept going, way past his bedtime. We are among the last to leave the event. And as I wheel him down the hall, two of the professional dancers approach him.

“You were good,” he tells them.

“No, you were good!” they respond almost simultaneously. They introduce themselves to him and ask for his name. They tell him they loved watching him dance, that he has great rhythm and so much enthusiasm. They tell him it was a privilege to be on the same dance floor with him.

He could have burst with pride, thanks to their kindness and sensitivity. And I am delighted to have my skepticism proven unwarranted for the second time that evening.

I take him to his little room, and we say goodnight. “Thank you for dancing with me, Dad,” I say, as I turn to go.

“Did you have fun?” he asks.

“Yes,” I respond emphatically. For it was truly the best dance I have ever attended.

Excerpt from They Live On: Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad by Patricia A. Nugent

 

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For Better AND Worse

My parents were similar in one way: They both wanted to be “in charge.” From my perspective as an adolescent, they should have had one date and then said to each other, “It was so nice to meet you. I hope you have a wonderful life.” Instead, they were married for over 60 years, til death did them part.

After much reflection, I realize that my book, They Live On: Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad, is a love story about my parents’ final days – a love story with the all-too-common theme that “you don’t know what you have ’til it’s gone.” It wasn’t until my parents died that I realized that I had never before understood their relationship and most likely had discounted it unfairly.

Here is the story of their last anniversary together, on January 24, as relayed in my book.

Poor Girl

She is so sick that he does not recognize her. My sister and I wheel him up to her bedside and still he does not realize that this is his wife.

“Who is this?” he asks. “Where’s the other one?”

My sister and I inappropriately start laughing, out of sheer exhaustion. We quickly gain control and convince Dad that this shell is his wife. He becomes sorrowful and tender. He holds her hand, kisses her, shouts “I love you” in her ear, and tries to feed her. He tenderly touches her face and neck, telling her that she’s beautiful.

“How are you feeling, dear? OK?” He is so used to her being so strong and expects her bravado to re-emerge. She is comatose.

It is their 63rd wedding anniversary.

We sit for a while until he reluctantly agrees to leave, only after being promised he can soon return. She shows no acknowledgement, save for the tear in the corner of her eye, which he dabs with a tissue.

Later that night, I stop to see him and find him crying in bed. Without prompting, he explains, “I didn’t know it was her. I couldn’t believe it.” I tell him I understand.

“I love her,” he says. “I really love that girl.”

I start to tell him more specifics about her medical status, but he stops me. “Don’t,” he says and keeps repeating, “Poor girl. Poor girl.” He knows his 88-year-old “girl” is leaving him, but he doesn’t want to know the gory details.

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A Terrible Mistake

The recent loss of a dear friend – an elderly woman who I believed immortal – brings back the same feeling I had when my mother died…that it’s all a terrible mistake. I keep waiting for a call or a text from my friend…even though the memorial is this weekend.

Denial is the first stage of loss.  It works for awhile…

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She can’t be dead. It’s not possible. I keep expecting her to show up, to put an end to all this nonsense about her being dead.

I keep thinking we’ll have another chance, that it’ll be like before. That I should save those clothes because she’ll need them when she returns.

It’s all just a terrible mistake. Come back, Mama. We’ll get everything all straightened out.

She can’t be dead. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

Excerpt from They Live On: Saying Goodbye to Mom and Dad © 2010

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The Privilege

I have the privilege of holding my almost 90-year-old father’s hand. I have the privilege of stroking his white hair and putting cream on his dry face. I have the privilege of seeing his face light up when I arrive and crestfallen when I leave. I have the privilege of knowing he loves me, and I love him. The past is the past; we have transcended that struggle.

I have the privilege of him calling me by my mother’s name. “You were a good golfer,” he tells her via my personage. And I now carry the burden that she carried of taking care of him. I share her joy and sorrow at the opportunity lost and gained.  Do I do this for her or for him…or for myself?

Posted in honor of my father, Nicholas J.Nugent, 1914-2004

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June 15, 2014 · 2:56 pm

The Power of Words

Someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls…they get in your rugs, in your upholstery, in your clothes and, finally, they enter you.                                 – Maya Angelou

 The written and spoken word determines what we do in life and how we do it. And since words ultimately guide our actions, it is important for us to speak words of truth, love and every good thing we desire to experience into existence.                                                                           -Iyanla Vanzant

My written reflections are posted here for those eager to find their way to a deeper understanding of the universal human experience. Words have always been so important to me, the written word especially. But I never fully realized the power of words until the publication of my book, They Live On. I have since learned that change occurs from the inside out and that we influence our collective future one person at a time, soul-to-soul. I welcome your comments and stories as we together seek a higher consciousness. The pen is indeed mightier than the  sword.                                                    -Patricia A. Nugent

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