“I don’t know how to die,” admitted a cancer patient to her hospice nurse after last week’s admission to this nursing home. “I’ve never done this before.”

Her red-knit stocking cap bobs as more heart-words rivet our attention, seated around a table in the conference room filled with coffee cups and pastries. It is Sunday afternoon, the clouds moist with rain, the soaked gardens resembling stricken wildebeests.

Her voice strong, her back straight in the wheelchair, the elastic ties on her oxygen mask indenting her doughy cheeks, she describes recent changes: leaving her apartment and neighbors, leaving her oncologist’s palliative care, leaving her sons to their illusion that she will get better, leaving others to dispose of her personal effects, waiting long spells for others to wheel her around; even adjusting to her roommate’s stuff overflowing into her curtained cubicle—all of this with equanimity. “But the food is good,” she adds, her eyes smiling.

What is striking during our time together, however, is the number of employees who pass in the corridor and wave to our friend. For years, during trying hospitalizations and treatments, she had cultivated this cheerfulness, especially when it eluded her, and it continues to serve her well.

A woman of deep spirit, she is fearless in exploring the perimeters of her circumscribed world in the days still allotted to her. We will continue to follow her.

Her name is Miki.

 

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