Margie, Margaret and Me, Room 4, Harper House
by Lori Posdal, Treasure Coast Hospice
Everyone tells us we look like sisters. I think it’s our shared Midwestern heritage, although we didn’t meet until six years ago.
Margie and I met when our husbands made dinner plans. We were seated at a table across from one another, and initially there were some awkward, polite small talk between us. When the guys began talking about boat paint we looked at each other, rolled our eyes and launched into a discussion about books, travel and growing up in Chicago.
Over the years we’ve shared holidays, cruises, Sunday dinners, tears when her son got on the wrong side of the law, her cat dies and my mom had breast cancer. We are shopping aficionados. Margie has supported my dabbling in improve, and she can make me laugh until I cry.
A few Mondays ago, my phone chimed and flashed Margie’s name as I drove into my garage after work. I answered gleefully, demanding to know how many days were left until she jetted off to India.
Margie, quietly: “I’m in the ER with my mom. She had a massive stroke. The doctor just told me they are calling hospice.”
I shifted into reverse: “I’m on my way.”
I had instantly morphed from an employee of Treasure Coast Hospice to a family member of a Treasure Coast Hospice patient: Margaret V., Room 4, Harper House.
Our vigil began at 6:30 p.m. that Monday in the ER, followed by the night in Martin Memorial North awaiting transfer Tuesday morning to the hospice house. Margaret was not well palliated at the hospital. Margie and I tried to soothe her with the soft Irish tunes she loved. When that didn’t work we’d gently hold her shaking body.
Relief finally came in the morning. We caravanned over to Harper House where our tension ebbed as the nurses and hospice aides promptly attended to Margaret’s comfort, first and foremost. She was gently transferred off the gurney into bed. One nurse monitored her arrival while another steered us to the couch just outside the room.
“Tell me about your mom,” the nurse began.
Margie quickly filled her in on the details of the previous 48 hours. The door to Room 4 opened, the transport team exited, looked us in the eyes and bid us farewell, tenderly adding, “Take care of yourselves.”
We entered the room, and Margie reached for my hand as we stepped up to the bedside.
“We’re here, Mom,” Margie said. “You won’t have to go anywhere else.” Margaret was considered to be in a non-responsive state since the stroke, but I pointed out that her left eyebrow rose slightly at Margie’s words of reassurance.
“That’s right, Margaret, we’re going to take good care of you and your daughters,” the nurse commented, taking us for sisters, and maybe we were. We certainly are now.
Margaret took a long breath and exhaled with a deep sigh. Reflexively, Margie and I mirrored her breathing and loosened our grip on each other. We were starting to relax.
We did have some things to take care of that first day. Margie and I slipped into task mode: Make a list of to do’s. Couple hours at the funeral home finalizing arrangements. Disperse family to assisted living to sort through Margaret’s belongings and pack up.
As the first evening at Harper House settled in, Margie and I retreated to the screened porch outside Margaret’s room. Family and friends visited quietly, but most of the time the three of us were by ourselves, Margie and me on our porch, her mother in her bed, on the other side of the glass slider but constantly within our awareness.
We measure time by the changing of the staff and the increments between medication. Birds chirped in the morning, crickets in the evening. Shadows lengthened through the day, the moon traveled the night.
We rolled the Yahtzee dice, we tiled words across the Scrabble board. We burst into fits of laughter.
We reviewed our own lives. We explored philosophies about life, death, spirituality and religion. We held silence. We read. We walked around the property, so familiar to me, yet I’d never realized how lovely it is at night. A roaring wind joined our conversation for a time. Rain pattered on the porch’s rooftop.
Most of all, we did what we do best: We talked. We reflected on Margaret’s 86 years, giggling when Margie recalled how Margaret would tell the grandkids they were going to the zoo when really it was the horse races Margaret was taking them to.
We spoke to Margaret, prayed over her, comforted her with touch and song. As her spirit withdrew, we noticed that her physical body looked smaller each day, as if she were shrinking from the inside out.
Margaret died after six days in Harper House. Before she left, I thanked her for what I considered the greatest gift to the world, my soul sister Margie. And after she died, I thanked Margie for allowing me to be part of her mom’s final chapter.
In that passage of time, Margie and I put aside everyday life and the clutter of things we accumulate in fervent quest of a comfortable life. How trivial that all seemed, enfolded in the embrace of Comfort itself on the porch of Room 4, Harper House.