Nurse Jacob was just leaving after checking to be sure that Martha was comfortably settled after her bath. Martha smiled at her and murmured “Thanks,” to let her know all was well, and Nurse Jacob said, “Have a good morning and I’ll be back to check on you in a bit,” and then left the room.
Martha thought that being at the end of life in a nursing home wasn’t that different from the beginning of life in the nursery. In both cases, people were cared for, tended, bathed, dressed, fed, and so forth. And in both cases as, Martha supposed, was true of most of life, unfortunately, people were categorized. You were a good baby or a colicky difficult baby or you were a good child or a naughty disobedient child, you were put into the smart reading group or the slow learners group, Martha thought remembering her days as a teacher.
Martha had hated the categories then as she did now. As a child Martha had been the good obedient daughter because she was terrified; she did it for her very survival. Now, Martha was the good patient, but not out of a sense of fear. Rather, Martha became the model patient because she had a secret.
As Martha thought about her life, she stroked her cat Marmalade. Model patients were allowed to have their companion animals, another very good reason, thought Martha, for being easy to tend to. Marmalade herself was a model cat. The nurses fed her twice a day and changed her litter box every morning and otherwise, Marmalade stayed in Martha’s lap when she was in her chair, or other else on Martha’s bed curled up on top of her. The nurses had no idea how much Martha told Marmalade because Martha rarely talked to people, but that was just fine with both Martha and the nurses.
Martha always appeared to listen attentively as the nurses and aides babbled on about their lives or other patients. Martha knew that poor Agnes down the hall frequently had to be sedated to keep her from screaming and crying all the time and that old Mr. Grimes was nasty and ill-tempered, but Martha just nodded and said “thank you” or “how nice” or “that’s a shame,” and the staff was pleased. They spent extra time with Martha during the day because they felt sorry for her. She was all alone and never had any visitors. It wasn’t that she didn’t have family. She did, and she knew they loved her, but they were just too busy. They had families of their own and activities and work of their own, and she wasn’t a part of any of that anymore. In fact, she hadn’t been for many, many years, and as happens, they just forgot about her.
She’d been told when she was younger that she needed to find her own family, that family didn’t depend on blood, and she had tried, but mostly she had learned to enjoy her own company and that of her dear furry companions. She became a recluse and so it was no wonder that she didn’t have any visitors now, or so it appeared to the staff, and truly Martha was alright with that. People drained her energies so fast and it was so hard for her to speak aloud now, that her own company was the best, being here with Marmalade.
Martha napped a lot during the day so that she would be ready for her nighttime visitors. This was her secret. She wasn’t alone as everyone imagined. She had a family now and they came to visit every night just after midnight. And she and Marmalade lived for those visits. Everyone needs companionship and relationships, the nursing staff was correct on that score, but they needn’t put her in the category of elderly patient whose family doesn’t care and doesn’t visit because Martha’s family visited every night.
Marmalade always kept her ears open for the sound of a nurse deciding to check on patients because Marmalade and Martha did not want their secret revealed. Every night the faeries came to visit them. And unlike the talkative nurses, Martha and Marmalade listened to everything the faeries said and they talked back to them, telling the faeries all about their days as well. The faeries could communicate without voices so that helped Martha (and Marmalade) a lot. And it wasn’t exhausting to visit with faeries. Furthermore, they always arrived with cordials and snacks which were incredibly delicious and also brought new energies to Martha.
Martha was especially eager for tonight’s visit since she was sure the Queen would be coming to tell her all about the Prince’s wedding. The Prince himself had visited last night after his bachelor party. He was very tipsy, but very polite, and Martha had wished him all the happiness in the world. And tonight the Queen would come and she and Martha would talk about weddings and families and children and it would be a wonderful visit.
Martha and Marmalade nodded off to sleep to rest up for tonight’s visit, and as Martha was drifting off she realized that she had finally found family, or maybe it had found her, and that she was indeed very fortunate, not only for the wonderful care she was shown by the nursing home staff, but by the joy her new found family brought her each and every night. Her life was truly blessed.