Jennie

Ms. Jennie was a resident at Morningside Assisted Living when we first met. I play the piano there a couple times a month, and she was one of the regulars who enjoyed our hymn-sings and Bible study. She had a wry sense of humor that always caught me off-guard.

Jennie, quite simply, made me laugh.

I found myself arriving before our program just to spend time with her. We would sit in her room and…well, laugh. She had lived long enough that she knew truth and didn’t hesitate to speak it. Her honesty was refreshing, as were tales of her life, including the story of her fall off the Great Wall of China. I had never before met anyone who had even seen the Great Wall, much less fallen off of it.

Jennie was an integral part of life at Morningside, routinely baking in the kitchen, involved with every activity. That is, until she had her stroke. It happened one night around bedtime. Jennie had laid out her clothes for the next day and was bent over her bed ironing them, when something exploded in her brain. When she didn’t make an appearance for breakfast the next morning, one of the aides found her.

I visited Jennie at the hospital where she lay, seemingly comatose, in intensive care. All I could think to do was to sing and softly mouthed the words to Trust and Obey, one of the old hymns she loved. I didn’t see any reaction but knew, as I stroked her arm, that this somehow comforted her.

Jennie survived and after a stint in rehab, returned to Morningside. She was paralyzed on one side and unable to walk, dress or bathe herself. I don’t how the assisted living folks intended to care for her, but I suspect they were trying to assuage the guilt they felt for her long night on the floor. A new management team, though, ultimately decided she needed full-time nursing care and moved her to a different facility.

The move was difficult for Jennie. A few pictures, clothes, and her recliner were all she could take with her. Her bedroom furniture, couch and coffee table, her boxes of treasures, her baby dolls and stuffed toys, the few remaining remnants of her old life, were gone. Instead, she slept in a hospital bed, with an institutional bedside table and meal cart.

Jennie spent most of each day in bed. Only rarely did I find her dressed and sitting in her recliner, which might explain why she often complained about her caretakers, threatening to go live under a bridge in a cardboard box. She would finish with, “If you tell anyone what I said, I’ll beat the shit out of you!”

All right, then. I was not accustomed to hearing that word from the mouth of one so old. I smiled at the thought of her ever following through since paralysis kept her from doing just about everything. But I kept what she said to myself.

Jennie and I had the same birthday, but with forty-one years between us. The year I turned fifty, she turned ninety-one. I showed up at the nursing home that day clad in clown garb—wig, costume, grease paint and big red nose. The aides put Jennie into a wheelchair; I put the red nose on her face and proceeded to wheel her around the facility, stopping in nearly every room to greet the residents. I will always remember that day of clowning around.

When Jennie bemoaned the fact that God did not take her the night she had her stroke, I told her He left her on earth just for me. The laughter she inspired was like a healing balm to my spirit, reminiscent of the laughter I shared with my mother who had died several years earlier. Coincidentally, her name was Gennie as well, though spelled with a G rather than J.

Jennie died in 2010, many years after her fateful stroke. Near the end, she could no longer speak clearly and her frustration at my inability to understand her words was palpable. She lit up, though, when I spoke to her, so I would hold her hand and ramble on, sometimes for an hour, about God, about my family, about my job.

The time finally came when Jennie’s mind went and she no longer knew me. And then she died, at age ninety-six. She had lived and loved well.

I still miss the laughter we shared.

2 Comments

  1. Susie
    Jun 11, 2014

    what a beautiful way to remember your friend and cohort. she was lucky to have known you; a kindred spirit filled with the yearning desire to make others smile and share the peels of laughter.

    • Karen Curran
      Jun 11, 2014

      Thanks, Susie! Mrs. Jennie was a special friend!

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