I lost a resident today.
I wish I could say that it was a matter of her wandering away, of her playing hide and seek, of her simply ducking my calls.
But it's not.
Ms. T died this morning.
She was 79.
I don't work in a nursing home. I work in an apartment complex. We're just like every other unfurnished apartment complex, except we are subsidized by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and we are especially for seniors. What that means is that we can provide the type of living they are accustomed to but, due to small Social Security income checks, can no longer afford.
Still, because we are for seniors, over the 8-1/2 years I have been here, I have lost many residents. It's simply a matter of aging in place and the facts of life.
I have to admit, there are some deaths that don't affect me as much as others. I don't mean that callously or cruelly, it's just the way it works. I have so many residents, I don't know them all as closely as I do some. This death, however, hits a bit hard. For Ms. T and I - we have a history.
For the first couple of years that I worked at the complex, Ms. T and I hated each other. Okay - hate is extreme. But work with me, because it definitely went beyond extreme dislike for the two of us. She never admitted to her original thoughts of me, but I knew they weren't good. In my mind, Ms. T was a nasty, opinionated old woman who consistently complained about everything and everyone.
Then came the buzz on my alarm panel.
Because we are for seniors, our building has emergency pull cords in all of our apartments. During the day, we - the office staff - respond. If after hours, we have a monitoring company that will immediately dispatch an ambulance/fire.
The buzz on my panel came just as I was closing up my office. Checking the apartment, I gritted my teeth and called. No response. Grabbing my keys, I ran to her apartment - knocking as I went in, calling her name.
There she was, seated in her big chair, head back, eyes opening as I came in, looking just fine.
Until I caught the whistle and gasp rhythm that I realized immediately was her breathing.
"Ms. T? Do you need an ambulance?" I'm required to ask. I'm not allowed to assume.
A brief nod of her head as she continued the whistle/gasp and her eyes stayed fastened on me.
As I got her necessary paper, we have them all post, I took her phone and made my way to kneel on the floor beside her chair and dialed 911. I gave all the information they required. She was able to haltingly give me a brief description of what had preceeded, and I relayed the information.
The ambulance was on it's way.
Meanwhile, the whistles and gasps seemed to be getting faster and her eyes remained fastened on mine. I remember tears came to my eyes and I told her that I didn't know what else to do. I reached up to pat her hand and she grabbed it and gasped out "just ... please ... don't ... leave ... me". I turned her hand and held it softly, rubbing the back of it, looking into her eyes calmly and told her that nothing would move me. We watched each other for a moment and then she said the word ... "pray".
So, I did. For her. For me. For the both of us. When I looked back up at her face, she gasped a smile at me, just as the EMT's came through the door. She didn't release my hand until they loaded her onto the bus to go to the hospital.
It was late when I got home that night. I still had to close up my office, plus I called Ms. T's daughter to advise her of the situation and where her mom had been taken. The next day, her daughter stopped by to thank me and to give me the scoop on her mom's situation. The next week, Ms. T. came home.
Nothing was ever said between Ms. T and I about that day. For all intents and purposes, it might not have happened. Except it did and we both knew it and we both came to an understanding that what had been past was just that - past. We were both still there and we both appreciated the other's presence. We never became close, but we enjoyed each other's brief moments of company.
During the years that followed, I learned alot about Ms. T and her fight for life each day. I respected her fight to maintain her independence and her integrity. She was never one to let something slip, always fiercely determined to take care of her business - even as life twisted her once healthy body.
I lost a resident today.
More than that, I lost a friend I respected and admired. I wish you could have met her.