by Alicia Beckwith
this is the final chapter of Beckwith’s book, The Oldest Lady
The following Monday, I took off from work and drove Hannah to her oncologist, waiting for her while she consulted with the doctor. It wasn’t long before the nurse came to the door and called me in to be with Hannah. I sat next to her and glanced first at Hannah, then the doctor who introduced himself.
“I’m afraid I have more bad news to share,” he began. “Hannah asked me to have you come in for support and for an extra pair of ears. Hannah has the aggressive form of leukemia.” He paused.
“What does that mean exactly?” I asked, reaching for Hannah’s hand.
“We’d been hoping the tests would reveal the disease would respond to normal treatment. However, that isn’t the case.” He went on to say how the leukemia would progress rapidly, making it impossible for Hannah to take care of herself. “Inasmuch as this is the case, it won’t be a long time before you’ll need a hospice setting.” He turned to me. “Hannah shared with me that both of her daughters died rather young, and you’re her only support.”
I glanced at Hannah and squeezed her hand. “I’ll do what I can, but I’m still working at Strong Memorial Hospital.”
“Yes, I knew that” the doctor said wistfully. “Since you have training in the field, are you willing to place Hannah on the list for St. Ann’s Hospice unit, which is her wish?” I nodded. “I’ll follow up with my recommendations and appropriate paperwork.” He turned to Hannah. “Are you okay with this?”
“Of course. You know my position, and how I feel. I trust Alicia.”
We closed the meeting and booked a follow-up appointment with the receptionist at the desk outside the office. “Hannah, do you want to go for lunch so we can talk about this some more?” She nodded and told me she’d like to go to the same place her daughters liked. We drove to the Atlantic Family Restaurant, went in, and were led to a table serviced by Alona, who came over shortly after we settled in.
We gave her our order, both of us taking a deep breath after Alona walked away. “I’m so sorry, Hannah. It’s a lot to have to take in, isn’t it?”
She nodded. “But it’s all right. I’m tired. I’m lonely, and I’m ready.”
“You’re a very strong person, Hannah.” We said a silent prayer while we held hands across the table. I felt so sad inside but felt some relief in that she was rather resigned.
Our order came, and after finishing the meal, we talked a little more about the steps we’d be taking to get her into hospice at St. Ann’s, since the doctor told us the time frame which was within the standard for admission. It helped to get her in since her supports were so limited. I reassured Hannah I’d start the process that afternoon. When we left, I drove her home, settled her in, and left, driving slowly down my old street, turning onto St. Paul Boulevard.
I felt numb, sad, and kind of crushed for my friend, thinking how very strong she is to make the decisions she had. When I got home, I began the process with St. Ann’s, all the while trying to shut out my emotions. When all was said and done, I called Hannah to let her know the progress.
The next week, we got together again for lunch. I noticed upon picking her up, that she was much weaker than the last time I saw her. I asked her where she wanted to go, and she chose Nick’s Sea Breeze Inn. After giving our order, I asked Hannah how she was doing. She told me she wasn’t as strong as the last time we got together, and she wasn’t able to do as much, either. Getting dressed was becoming a real chore.
“I’ll follow up with St. Ann’s and let you know what the outcome is. Would that okay?”
“Yes. I’m ready.”
I leaned forward, let out a deep sigh.
“Don’t feel bad for me. I’ve had a long and wonderful life. I truly am ready, Alicia. I have no regrets.” We talked some more about her feelings, expectations, and reflections on her life. I marveled at her attitude and strength.
After the meal, I drove her back home. When I arrived at my house, I placed the call to the person in charge at St. Ann’s to let her know that Hannah was ready. My fear of “no beds at this time” was unfounded. She told me that Hannah’s doctor had already been in contact with them and was calling Hannah to set a time to go over to her home to check in on her. The hospice coordinators with St. Ann’s and Visiting Nurse Service would be following up to complete the steps for her admission.
I left St. Ann’s feeling wiped out. Given the deaths of her two daughters, and now facing her own death after an unusual life, I felt relief that Hannah was able to partake with the decisions made, and felt resolved. I wondered if I could ever be as strong as she is, with tears starting to flow as I left the door of St. Ann’s.
The next day, both St. Ann’s and Hannah’s doctor called me to say that the admission was set for that Friday, and would I please help Hannah get to Hospice. I asked if she was still able to walk and get into my car. They reassured me she could. When I hung up, I immediately called Hannah who thanked me for calling and for helping her. We set up the time for me to arrive, and I arranged coverage at the hospital so I could transport Hannah.
When I got there on Friday, she was waiting at the door, sitting on one of the dining room chairs. She looked gaunt and pale. Her suitcase was just by the edge of the door. I hugged her, picked up the case, and put it in my car, then went back to help her out. On the drive to St. Ann’s, we discussed details about the house; she reminded me of her attorney’s name and number, telling me he’d handle all the other arrangements. I reassured her I’d do whatever I could where needed, and that I would visit every day.
When we arrived, someone came out to the car and helped Hannah inside. I parked the car and followed them up to her room. After they had her settled her in, I went inside, sat next to her, leaned over and hugged her. I couldn’t help it, I couldn’t stop the tears for a few of moments. I noticed Hannah was in tears, too. I stayed with her until they began their assessments, promising to return the next day.
After Al and I finished breakfast, I called the hospice unit; they advised me of the best time to visit. I waited, then drove over to see her. When I entered Hannah’s room, my heart jumped. I noticed she was lying in bed, blankets pulled up, her face turned to the other wall. I stood still, taking it in. Wow! What a change from yesterday!
“Hannah,” I started, quietly. She turned her head and made eye contact. “How are you doing?”
She sighed, gave a slight smile, and shook her head. “Not too good, I’m afraid. But the staff here are wonderful. I feel much better now that I’m here, but, I’m afraid it won’t be long now. I feel so much weaker.”
“I guess that’s to be expected, but it is kind of a disappointment that it’s progressing so fast.”
“It’s okay. I want to get it over with.” We talked about Jesus, her relationship with Him, and her assurance of heaven. I felt good about that. I stayed a little while longer, then left, wondering how long she’d be with me.
When I went over the next day, Hannah was barely able to talk, and had stopped eating and drinking. I knew she’d given up. I leaned over, kissed her cheek and held her hand. I didn’t want to see her go; yet, I didn’t want her to continue on like this. While she didn’t say anything, I could read in her eyes that she was glad I came. I stayed a short time, then kissed her goodbye.
About eleven o’clock that night, the phone rang. I picked it up, knowing full well who was on the line. Sure enough, it was St. Ann’s unit to tell me that Hannah had slipped away. I thanked them for letting me know and told them I’d follow up in the morning with the doctor and the attorney who was in charge of the funeral, and any other details. When I hung up, I felt empty and sad. It was several hours before I could fall asleep.
When I hung up from making the calls, I thought about the small memorial service scheduled for Monday. I was glad I was invited to attend, feeling it was my last time to pay honor to Hannah. I called my cohort at work, asking her to fill in for me so I could go. Maria, who had known about my friendship with Hannah and her illness, reassured me she’d take care of it, wishing me well.
Monday, at the appointed time, I arrived at the funeral home and went inside. I felt odd that there was no memorial book to sign. But then, to whom would it be given? And there were only three of us. I was surprised and pleased that her doctor was the other person along with the minister. What a wonderful tribute to a most unusual person.
When the service was over, I left the chapel slowly, clutching a rose that I’d taken out of the bouquet I’d brought. I got into the car and just sat there for a long time, thinking about Sandy; Susan; Hannah; the box of photos of Hannah’s life; and marveled at the most unusual time I’d spent with them all. I felt blessed to have had this experience.
Alicia Beckwith is a local poet and author and has been writing for four decades. Her poems have been published in book collections and magazines.