Visiting Hours

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

She arrives in the morning after breakfast, having first thanked god for another day in an upright position. She stops at the nurse’s station, not to check in, but rather to greet whomever is on duty by first name, applaud the glorious weather, ask about the family, chuckle over the latest joke, and say something as sweet and charming as her tousled white hair and spiffy new sneakers.

She makes her shuffling way through the unit to her loved one’s room, wishing a good day to those she passes. She arranges tidy, fresh flowers in the vase on the bedside stand, saving the day-old blooms for the aide to give to someone who has been forgotten by family and friends. She pulls the chair closer, takes pale, curled fingers in her hand and tenderly kisses cool, brittle lips. Her eyes are closed and her heart, hopeful, remembering the day fifty years before when they knelt before each other with open hearts, fearless of the future, kissing away each other’s tears.

She begins reading the news, her tremulous voice breaking at the headline that cuts to Social Security and Medicare are on the table, breaking at the ethos of national politics. She touches the still, cool hand for emphasis, editorializing on other issues—the fickle path of immigration reform and gun control, the unyielding hope for a more considerate era. She poses encouraging questions, filling the silence with cheerful answers. After the paper is read, she rises to stretch and adjusts the blinds. She checks the nursing chart, which never varies, and says another prayer for recovery.

Her visiter's lunch tray is delivered as she talks of the garden’s status, the latest goings on of the neighbors. She eats intermittently, distracted from the stillness by the rhythm of the respirator, the beeping pumps, the steady tempos that sustain life, their life. She closes her eyes, remembering the summer they danced so closely in the gazebo so closely, swaying to whispered things not yet come to pass.

When the meal is finished and cleared, her voice resumes to fill the poignant voids with talk of moments that make her eyes moist. She asks if there’s anything she can do, and plumps the pillows, fingers a tendril of gossamer hair.

She selects a book from those neatly stacked on the small shelf, settles into the chair and begins the afternoon reading. This day it is Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. She reads with the passion of the words on her tongue and strokes the vein on an unmoving arm as only a lover can. She reads until the dinner tray arrives and silence returns, the respirator and pumps carrying the conversation. After dinner, she touches a cheek, a thigh, a belly, absently tapping to the beat of the machines.

At 8:00 p.m., when visiting hours are over, she takes pale, curled fingers in her hand and tenderly kisses cool, brittle lips, her eyes closed and heart hopeful, remembering the chilly day when they danced before the fire, grateful for the enduring joy of each other. Then she departs as she came, saying goodbye to the nurses and wishing them a peaceful night filled with sweet dreams.

And so she has done every day since the stroke, every day since a miracle interrupted death, every day. And so she will continue. She will continue to wait for an awakening, for her loved one to come back to her, to dance with her again, the moonlight glowing in gossamer hair and arms so graceful around her.

She will not hear the doctors who say there’s not much hope, the chaplain who says it is not a sin to let go, the social worker who tells her to get on with her life. This is her life.

So she thanks God for Medicare, which pays to keep lungs breathing, hearts beating and food pumping through tubes, day after day.

Just as she thanks God for the President, whom she prays will have the wisdom to lead the nation’s anguished deliberations.

Just as she dreads that the decisions might put an end to her visiting hours.

Love, K-B

Note: Previously published in a different form.

Crossposted at the Ocean Beach RagProgressive Post and San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.