The Spirited Old Woman
They said she died of a brain bleed and that I was responsible. She’d been on Eliquis after all, and I should have insisted she call EMS, go to the emergency room and have a CAT scan or an MRI. She had fallen. Hit her head. Hadn’t her primary care physician warned her, just last visit, to go to the ER immediately if she had another tumble? The old woman had listened with her typical of-course-of-course politeness.Fragile bones and decreased height, slower gait and weaker strength—sometimes jars just had to stay unopened—plus the loss of loved ones and friends, all came with increased age.
She knew how to take care of herself, she assured the doc. She would be extra careful. As it was, she didn’t take chances.
Old age wasn’t for sissies, and she was a pro at coping with old age. Miss Independent, everyone called her. They admired her sharp mind, her spunk. Who could believe she had exceeded the century mark?
But in the privacy of her home, she made sure to set an alarm clock when she baked so she wouldn’t forget there was something in the oven. She practiced giving herself three random words and setting the alarm for five minutes before making herself repeat them, like the doctor’s test, to keep her mind active, keep her memory keen. She even set an alarm to remind herself to eat lunch. Advanced age had decreased her appetite, but she forced herself to consume at least a small amount of nutrition twice a day—her way of giving thanks to a body that had outlasted even the best automobiles, ten times over.
So it seemed especially ironic that she blamed her fall on the alarm clock. It went off for no reason she could think of. Had she set it for some reason? She was simply standing at the counter, pouring herself a glass of strawberry Ensure over ice, when the alarm rang. She was positive it rang. Could have sworn it. She had turned to look toward the sound when a dizziness overtook her. Her balance evaporated and she tumbled into the step stool—where had that come from? The refrigerator struck her forehead and the tile floor collided with the side of her head.
“Help,” she mumbled, and I came right away.
Her right elbow was bleeding, although not the gushing that usually occurred when she cut herself. A good sign. A new blue-black bruise claimed most of the paper-thin skin on the left side of her arm. Her left leg and hip hurt, but she didn’t bother to check for bruises there.
“Just get me into bed,” she whispered. She had already pulled herself up and was doddering toward the bedroom.
The ache in her rump clawed its way up her back and settled as a stiffness in her neck.
She wouldn’t complain. She refused ice. Refused Tylenol. Refused to go the ER.
I pleaded with her to change her mind. But everyone knew the old woman had a stubborn streak. Testa dura, her Italian friends called her.
I think she was just plain old tired. Too tired to call an ambulance, a neighbor, or her granddaughter. Too tired of doing everything she did for herself. By herself. Living can be down-right exhausting. I kept her company until she drifted off.
Her granddaughter broke loose from work at noon. She had been calling all morning and the old woman hadn’t answered, so she let herself into the house.
She found her grandmother in bed. She checked for a pulse although the blue lips told her there would be none. She sat on the bed and stroked the old woman’s hair. “Thanks for being in my life, Grammie. I love you.”
She lingered there for several intimate minutes, letting the tears flow, soaking in the love that still emanated from the old woman. She said nothing to me. Didn’t even notice me. She gently kissed her grandmother’s forehead, stood and left the room. She had calls to make. Arrangements.
It was time. I stood and walked slowly around the room, noting the photo of her deceased husband, the one of five generations of family members, the birthday crown her great-great-granddaughter made for her last birthday party. Oh, so many happy memories.
“Yes, they will be here soon.” The young woman’s voice floated in from the other room and I floated over to the bed. I looked down with mixed emotions. I should have insisted she call EMS. Perhaps this could have been prevented. She could have struggled on. Pushed a little harder. But maybe not with the same dignity. The old woman did have her pride.
And it was her call, after all.
Yes, I think she was ready. And now, so was I.
I sat down on the bed and took one more look around the room. I lay down, returned to the old woman’s body. Then closed my eyes.
Marjorie Brody’s short stories have appeared in literary magazines, journals, anthologies, and on the stage and screen. A Pushcart Prize nominee and a multi-award-winning novelist for her psychological suspense, Twisted, she loves to discover the characters that arise from a blank page. You may reach her at: www.marjoriespages.com.