by Florrie Munat
Back in 1974-75 when we lived in Connecticut, our family hosted an exchange student from New Zealand named James. Over the years, with many visits back and forth, our two families became intertwined until we felt like one family.
Last fall, James’ sister Kate and her husband Pete were my houseguests. It was decided that their last day, Tuesday, would be the day for them to visit Chuck at the nursing home where he resides because of physical and cognitive disabilities resulting from LBD. We planned to take him out to lunch and for a drive around the island. But Monday when I saw him he was not well, and by Tuesday morning he was the worst I have ever seen him – lying in bed unresponsive, seemingly not knowing who I was, perhaps not even who he was. I came back home and told Kate and Pete the sad news.
I was terribly disappointed, and afraid. But Kate and Pete asked if they couldn’t visit him anyway. When we arrived at the nursing home around lunchtime, Chuck was sitting up in his wheelchair, but slumped over with his eyes closed, and still disoriented and unresponsive. Kate asked if she could talk to him, and I said of course, though I doubted he would understand a word.
She stood at his side, stroked his arm, and spent the next several minutes softly telling him about every member of her family, including James who, having lost his wife to breast cancer eleven years previously, has at last found a new lady to love, and who has quit his stressful job and is the happiest he’s been in years. She spoke about her mother Gladys, who died last spring, and related stories people told at Gladys’ memorial service. There was the story of the distressed young woman with two small children whom Gladys spotted in a bus station. Gladys walked over to this stranger and asked if she could help, and the young mother, whose face was bruised, broke down and said she was fleeing an abusive husband. She wanted to go to her mother’s house in Masterton, but that was far away and she had no money. Gladys took the family home and fed them. She gave them $500 for travel expenses and sent them off. Over the next few years, envelopes arrived from Masterson containing small sums of money until the $500 that Gladys thought she’d never see again was repaid. In her will, Gladys left the woman $1,000.
As Kate spoke, Chuck’s eyes flickered, then opened, and he began to watch her. Kate spoke of James’ high school friend Reggie, a poor Maori boy whose mother had died and whose father was in prison, and told how Gladys had flown with this boy twice to the Maori carving school in Rotorua to get him an interview, and how he’d subsequently received a scholarship to study there for two years, and is now one of New Zealand’s master carvers. At this, Chuck’s eyes brimmed over with tears.
Wide-eyed now, Chuck looked at Kate and said quite clearly, “And how is Spencer?” referring to James’ oldest son. And she told him that Spencer had a good job and was getting married in February to a lovely girl named May.
So Kate talked Chuck back from the dark place where he’d been hunkering. And she did it by the power of her love. It was pretty much like witnessing a miracle.
Florrie Munat has shared this postscript:
My dear sweet Chuck died June 6, 2009. The family had spent most of the day with him playing his favorite music, touching and talking to him, and chatting about memories. We came home for dinner, and he died while we were away. Maybe he needed that quiet space to complete his last work.
I am so sad, but know he found peace and the release he so wanted. I can now truly say, each day with someone with LBD is a gem to be treasured.