Compassion in the form of a Sonnet
One of the many things revealed to me throughout the writing of The Best Girl were the many people who showered our family with compassion. Some were strangers, some were close friends. Some encounters were one-time events, I suppose you could call them random acts of kindness. Others gave of themselves in ways that put their own lives at risk. All left an indelible impression on me and are held deeply within my heart. These people are the heroes in my life, and in the book.
As the five-year anniversary of my mom’s passing approaches, I find myself reflecting even further on the virtue of compassion. I think of a compassionate person as one who is acutely aware of another’s distress and who has an inner desire to ease at least a part of what the other person is experiencing. It is the ability to know that a listening ear, a timely hug – or even just a smile – can make all the difference to the anguished person before us.
Mom decided to into home hospice on Monday, September 17, 2012. Though weak, she was still up and around and cognitively intact when she made her decision. “I just want to rest,” she told me.
To attend to her needs, we hired an aide to provide twenty-four-hour care. The agency had told me that Sonnet, pronounced like Janet, would be coming. When Sonnet arrived, she informed us her name was actually pronounced Sonnet, like the poem. At first, I had trouble remembering which pronunciation was which, but once I got to know her, I thought of her as a living poem of compassion.
Hospice had left a “What to Expect” booklet in the home for us to read. The booklet talked about how, as the person approaches death, they may do a life review.
By Tuesday afternoon, Mom had stopped urinating and was sleeping almost continuously on the couch. When I left the house around 4:00 p.m., I told Sonnet to call with any concerns.
When I awoke the next morning, I felt uneasy. I called the house and Sonnet told me Mom had had a rough night – she was just about to call to see if one of us could come over. “I’m on my way,” I assured her. My husband was planning on coming after a morning meeting.
As I entered the house, Sonnet came running out from Mom’s bedroom – “I need help,” she explained, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Entering the bedroom, I found mom lying askance in her bed. Though her eyes were closed, the worry lines in her forehead, and the tightness in her lips worried me; she appeared to be in distress. Her skin was moist, as though she had been sweating. “Hey, Mom,” I said, gently shaking her shoulder. “What’s going on?” I watched her eyes flutter open and her face relax a tiny bit.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “Guess I had kind of a rough night,” she said, closing her eyes again. I tried to wake her again, but was not able to.
I called the hospice nurse and informed her of the change in Mom’s condition. I called my brother, who was at work in Bemidji. “You need to come home,” I said. “I think Mom is dying.” I was unable to reach my sister, and so called my brother-in-law and explained the change in condition. He assured me he would get my sister to the house as soon as possible. I then called Mom’s church, and requested a visit from the priest.
Once the phone calls were done, Sonnet and I worked on getting Mom’s bedding changed, putting on a new set of pajamas. We gently turned Mom from side to side as we worked, When we had everything freshened up, we carefully lifted her back onto her pillows. Mom slept through the entire process.
“She was up most of the night,” Sonnet told me. “She told me her whole life story. You have quite the Mom, that’s for sure. I am so honored to be caring for such a remarkable woman,” Sonnet said, tears streaming down her face.
Soon people started arriving. First the hospice team, who immediately ordered a hospital bed to be placed in the living room. Next, my brother-in-law, then my sister and their three children. My husband John came next, followed by the priest. We all stood around Mom’s bed while the priest led us in prayer and administered the last rites. Mom stirred a few times, but did not wake. Next, the New Brighton Fire Department sent two of its finest to carry Mom from her room to the hospital bed. Sonnet stood by and made sure they did it right, fussing with the covers and blankets and providing Mom with the most dignity she possibly could. My brother arrived soon after.
As morning progressed quickly into afternoon, my brother, sister and I positioned ourselves in the tight quarters of Mom's living room and started to reminisce. Occasionally we laughed, occasionally we cried. Sonnet sat with us, and as we discussed one memory after another, we got this eerie sensation that Sonnet already knew everything we were talking about. “I told you, your Mom talked all night last night. She told me everything,” Sonnet informed us. Sonnet knew about all three of us, our marriages, our kids, our problems. She knew the names and details of Mom’s friends, the neighbors, her life-long work at The First State Bank of New Brighton. It got to the point where we tried quizzing her – but we couldn’t stump her. Mom had indeed done a life review, and she had chosen Sonnet to do it with. And Sonnet listened.
Mom passed away on Friday, on her fifth day under hospice care. The hospice nurse and social worker were at her bedside, and Sonnet had gone into the bedroom to rest. As my sister and I talked with the hospice team, Mom took her last breath - all of us unaware at first. When my brother arrived, the three of us paid our last respects. As we turned away from Mom’s bedside, Sonnet appeared.
“May I have the honor of spending a half-hour or so with your Mom?” Sonnet whispered. “I need to talk with her one last time and I want to give her a proper bath before she leaves her home.”
And the three of us, my brother, my sister, and myself, already in tears over our loss, cried even harder. “Yes, Sonnet. Absolutely. Take all the time you want,” we said.
Compassion came to us, to Mom, in the form of a Sonnet.