Politics: Visiting Hours

(Editor's Note: This piece is cross-posted on Kit-Bacon Gressitt's blog Excuse Me, I'm Writing.)

Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Special to iVoryTowerz

He arrives after morning service, having thanked God for a new president and another day in an upright position. He stops at the nurse’s station, not to check in but rather to greet whomever is on duty by her first name, applaud the election’s outcome, ask about her family, chuckle over the latest joke and say something as sweet and charming as his tousled white hair and proper bow tie.

He makes his shuffling way through the unit to his wife’s room, wishing a good day to those he passes. He arranges tidy, fresh flowers in the vase on her bedside stand, saving the day-old blossoms for the orderly to give to someone who has been forgotten by family and friends. He pulls the chair beside her, takes her curled fingers in his hand and tenderly kisses her cool, brittle lips with his eyes closed and heart hopeful, remembering the day sixty years ago when he knelt before her, imploring her to be his forever, and she held his head in her lap, loving away his tears.

He begins reading her the news, his tremulous voice breaking at the 364 electoral votes, inviting a new gentility and ethos to national politics. He touches her hand for emphasis, editorializing on the other campaigns, the fickle path of ballot measures, the hope of a neophyte administration. He encourages her with questions, always ready with answers to fill the silence. After the paper is read, he rises to stretch and adjust the blinds. He checks her chart, which never varies, and says another prayer for her recovery.

His lunch tray is delivered as he tells her of the garden’s status, the latest goings on of the offspring. He eats intermittently, distracted from the stillness by the rhythm of her respirator, the beeping pumps, the steady tempos that sustain her. He closes his eyes, remembering the summer dance when they waltzed so closely in the gazebo and she whispered of a child to come.

When the meal is finished and cleared, his voice resumes to fill the poignant voids with talk of moments that make his eyes moist. He asks her if there’s anything he can do for her and adjusts her pillow, pretties the bow in her gossamer hair.

He 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.” He reads with the passion of the words on his tongue and strokes the vein on her pale arm as only a lover can. He reads to her until the dinner tray arrives and silence returns, the respirator and pumps carrying the conversation. After dinner, he touches her cheek, her thigh, her belly, absently tapping to the beat of the machines.

At 8:00 p.m., when visiting hours are over, he takes her curled fingers in his hand and tenderly kisses her cool, brittle lips with his eyes closed and heart hopeful, remembering the frosty day — the children long grown and gone — when they waltzed by the fireplace, grateful for the enduring joy of each other. Then he departs as he came, saying goodbye to the nurses and wishing them a peaceful night filled with sweet dreams.

And so he has done every day since her stroke, every day since she died in the emergency room and they made her breathe again, every day. And so he will continue to visit. He will continue to wait for her to awaken, to come back to him, to waltz with him again, the moonlight glowing in her hair and her arms so light around him.

He doesn’t hear the doctors who say there’s little brain function, little hope; the chaplain who says it is not a sin to let her go; the children who say she’s had a good life; the social worker who tells him to get on with his own. She is his life.

So he thanks God for Medicare, which pays to keep her lungs breathing, her heart beating and food pumping into her stomach day after day.

Just as he thanks God for President-elect Obama, whom he prays will have the wisdom to reform healthcare, to make the anguished decisions inevitably necessary for the nation.

Just as he fears what those decisions might be.

©2008 Kit-Bacon Gressitt

(Photo by without you via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license; photo discovered through everystockphoto.com.)

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