WOSTER: 'You can go home, Mom'
Several years ago when my mother-in-law awoke in the night and feared she was having a heart attack, she got out of bed, dressed, packed a small overnight case and sat at her kitchen table in Chamberlain, patiently waiting until morning to call t...
Several years ago when my mother-in-law awoke in the night and feared she was having a heart attack, she got out of bed, dressed, packed a small overnight case and sat at her kitchen table in Chamberlain, patiently waiting until morning to call the hospital.
Lorene Gust had lived alone for many years by then. Her husband, Paul, died when he was 68; she was a month short of that. A farm child of the Depression and the Dust Bowl, she had always been quite self-sufficient. She refused to bother others if she could do something herself. So she packed her case and waited alone in the night at her kitchen table until regular business hours at the hospital.
I guess she figured if she waited until the day shift reported, it wouldn't seem such an emergency and the nurses and doctors wouldn't raise a fuss over an old woman with chest and shoulder pains. People of her generation tended to do things like that. "Oh, I really don't want to bother the emergency people. It might not be anything serious, anyway.'' Pretty self-reliant and considerate of others, those children of the Depression were.
Things worked out that time for my mother-in-law. The medical staff did raise a fuss, of course, transporting her to Sioux Falls for a procedure that kept her going until just a couple of weeks ago. Her body and her spirit finally called it quits on Sept. 7, nine months after she celebrated her 100th birthday.
Life sometimes plays rather a cruel trick on those whose lives go on and on. Their world and their friendships seem to shrink, day by day, even as they are granted the gift of another sunrise, another sunset.
I saw that happen with my mother after Dad died. She left the farm, with its several thousand acres of land, and she lived for years in Chamberlain. Her physical world centered on the house where we had lived during the school year. Her boundaries reached about as far as the coffee group at Al's Oasis. When she had heart issues, she moved to a room in Sioux Falls to live out her last five years. It was a nice room, but it was a far cry from the vast spaces of her Lyman County years. She made new friends and, until her final few days in hospice, lifted the spirits of those around her with her wit and her piano playing.
Lorene's world contracted that way, too. From life in a fortress of a five-bedroom house on the hill, she moved to a modest apartment just off downtown, then to an assisted living center and finally to long-term care. Her physical world shrank with each move, but until the end, she lifted the spirits of those around her with her wit and wisdom.
By the time she passed, she had lived a long, richly rewarding life. While her husband lived, Lorene and Paul were always viewed around the community as an inseparable couple, whether in business ventures, family life or social and civic activities. She lived for most of 33 years after her partner was gone, and as far as I know, she never once thought of finding another companion. She adjusted and went on alone, as folks of her generation did.
She outlived her three brothers, one older and two younger, as well as nearly all of her friends and quite a few members of the next generation. When finally it was her time, she was more than ready. She still loved times with her family, but she had no fear of dying. When her daughter and I visited her for the last time just two days before she passed, Lorene said several times, "Take me home." Nancy took her hand and said softly, "You can go home, Mom. You'll be with Dad again, and you can see your brothers. You'll like that.''
It could be my imagination, but at those words, Lorene seemed to relax and settle deeper under the covers, almost as if she had packed her travel bag and was sitting again at her kitchen table, waiting for the right moment to make her final call.