In my dreams, I help her up out of bed.
In my dreams, she stands on two steady feet and she walks.
She walks away from her bed, from her wheelchair, from the nursing home, out into the world.
She sheds catheter and all medications.
She casts away MS, the disease that has left her paralyzed and has all but stripped her of her dignity.
in my dreams.
When I am not dreaming, I feed her, hold a glass of water to her lips, brush her teeth.
I cut her nails, dress the bed sores on her heels.
I comb her hair.
I tell her how much I love her.
I listen patiently to the same conversations we have gone over again and again.
Jeanie: How’s Rick? Is he still good-lookin’ as ever?
Me: He’s fine. He’s doing fine.
Jeanie: Well, is he?
Me: Yeah, he’s fine.
Jeanie: No! Is he still good-lookin?
Me: Yeah, he sure is!
Jeanie: Well, Franny, you got yourself a good man. Now don’t go doing anything to screw things up!
Where does she come up with this? She can still crack me up!
I change the subject to Ava and Brynlee, her precious granddaughters, the little girls Jeanie always wanted.
We talk about them for who knows how long.
The conversation is all over the place. We go from Ava to the boys to her ex to mom and dad to bingo to the details of the nurses’ lives to the subjects of God and spirit.
Jeanie lives in the world of spirits. She tells me Mom and Dad and my brother John, who died at birth, “visit her” regularly and they chat. She tells me that our brother John is an adult now and is very handsome and kind. Jeanie knows everything before you have had a chance to tell her. She often slips into Italian as we talk. In fact, she prefers to speak in Italian.
A nurse’s aid enters the room.
Jeanie says to me: Did you meet “my girl”?
At first I think she is referring to one of her granddaughters. But then I realize she means the woman who has just walked into the room. I am embarrassed by her words which seem to indicate an “ownership” of the people who tend to her physical needs, but I realize her intention is not to appear superior. It is simply her manner of expression. Perhaps this is her way of belonging to this nursing home.
There was a time when Jeanie was drop dead gorgeous. In Rome, men spotted her and followed my whole family to our hotel. It drove my dad nuts! All the village boys in Grotte went crazy over her. Marriage proposals were coming in fast. At night, Grandma’s house attracted serenaders. From our bedroom upstairs at Grandma’s, we could hear the guitars strumming, the nervous young men singing their hearts out in an effort to win Jeanie’s heart! Grandma would run upstairs and forbid us to open the balcony doors. To open the balcony doors would be to a sign of interest. It would be scandalous behavior, according to Grandma. So we listened, lying in our beds in the dark, to the songs of love below on the cobbled street of Via Confine.
Jeanie has kept her beauty. Her face is flawless and without wrinkles from a life of no sun and interior living. Her hazel eyes are huge and have retained the allure of her youth. Jeanie is loved by so many. I think about her everyday, every time I do yoga or hike or move. I want to wash away her paralysis with my movements. Her disease progresses, but the love I have for her remains steadfast.
P.S. Sorry about some of the blurry photos. Wish I could find better ones. Jeanie’s health is gradually failing. She is in the latter stages of her disease. She was diagnosed with MS when she was around 24 years old and has lived with it for about 32 years. She is one of the most courageous people I know! I am so proud to be her sister.