Updated: Jun 26, 2021
For the last three years I have had the privilege to assist my neighbors, the Lewises, with a health concern they were dealing with. I had some training in in-home health care so they asked if I would be willing to get some special training and step in to help with Merrill’s procedure. I had retired from service work and was focused on writing a book at the time but I was glad to help out. Merrill required in-home peritoneal dialysis and, in the beginning he required it four times a day to stay alive.
Over the years I would be in a clean, quiet room in his home with Merrill and we shared a lot of conversations in the 45 minutes that each session required. I heard about his life; he heard about mine. Some days we would just sit there and be quiet. It was never strained or difficult. There was a quiet, healing aspect to my relationship with Merrill.
In 2020 the pandemic hit and, though we did not expect it to last that long, it lasted a year before everyone could get vaccinated. We struggled to stay safe for each other by not mixing in with the public. Groceries were picked up curbside and strict protocols were maintained by the Lewises and myself. We pinky swore to not ramble around exposing ourselves willy-nilly and they became my “pod” during the pandemic.
I live alone and I was unable to have contact outside of an occasional online class, meet ups or Facetime meetings with my family who lived in another state. The Lewises were “IT” for me. I cannot even imagine what would have happened to me had I not been able to talk and connect with Lorene and Merrill once a day! I would have suffered greatly for lack of contact with other human beings for such a long period of time.
I had no idea what was going on curatively in the background of my life in these years with Merrill. Neither did he but by the time I published my book and reluctantly handed them a copy, I was dead sure that I would be asked, if not by them – then by their grown children - to not bother coming back. I couldn’t hide the book. I had been talking about how I was writing it everyday for years! I braced myself for the worst.
Dismissal is not what happened. What DID happen is that Merrill and his wife, Lorene, BOTH read it and just could not have been more proud of me had I given birth to a grandchild for them personally on their kitchen table! Now, my memoir was not an easy read and it was chock full of slang, swears, new age-y bits, sex, drugs, and rock and roll…so this is not the kind of story that is easy to read when you care about someone and not the kind of story that would drive anyone crazy to want to know me better either. It is not the kind of story I would expect folks in their 80’s to be able to get excited about.
That is when the medicine kicked in. It was this: I had never done something so important to me that I was not shamed for it in some way. No one ever got excited about anything I did like that in my life. Peers, perhaps but no male teachers, no doctors, and certainly no father.
In my memoir I talk about my absent father, the pedophile teacher and my rough treatment by a medical doctor as a child. Dr. Lewis may not have been a medical doctor, but he was a man of letters and held a certain stature in this world and certainly in my mind. He was a kind and stable father and as a teacher, he taught and inspired many young people in the course of his career.
This medicine over the last three years I had with him was given to me by his gentle and accepting nature. Merrill accepted me unconditionally. I can’t begin to express the impact that the kind of small doses of healing I experienced in this daily exchange with him had on me. That kind of care was outside my personal experience. In my way, I would just stumble in to do this task with him and he would be as steady as a rock in his kind and gentle ways…always even…always fair. Even when he was angry, it seemed wrapped in a kind of compassion reserved for very special, patient people.
His daughters tell me that their dad had always been raised and around “difficult women” in his family and he was expected to provide some kind of magical presence to all the problems these women who he cared about deeply procured. As I think about Merrill now, I think how fortunate I was that all those difficult women pressed him the way they did so I could benefit from having him be able to care about me…I’m also a difficult woman with a complicated past, something he found familiar enough that it didn't scare him.
Just before I went on Holiday to Oregon recently, Merrill had been considering quitting his extended warranty on life with the dialysis. His body was wearing out. He was getting weaker and weaker. I sat with him when he was mulling this over and he said chuckling, "Well, I guess you'll be out of a job soon." and then would smile at me like we had a secret. We had talked about these things sometimes when I would be doing the exchange with him. He knew I knew about the occupational hazard of helping people to the end. They end. It was kind of a joke we shared.
Merrill died last night. I was able to see him in state this morning and the peace in his face was beyond measure. It broke me then filled my heart to see his body there…finally relaxed and done with its work. He was smiling. I know I will be sure to recognize him should our paths ever cross again. I will miss him deeply.