Another of the people I got to know while going with my sister to dialysis was a man named Jerry.
For the first couple of years that I saw them there, Jerry and his wife would come to the center in their big wide-body truck. She would be driving, of course, and it always tickled me a little to see her jump down from the drivers seat. (She is about 5 foot even and weighs around 95 pounds from the look of it!)
Back in those first days of seeing them, Jerry was walking. He would get out of the passenger seat on his own. The two of them would stand in front of the entrance for a moment where he would lean down from his almost 6 foot tall height to give his wife a kiss. Whether they knew it or not, this was always their little gift to me, the woman who has always seemed to fail at love.
So, for two years I witnessed the love, humor and devotion between these two elderly people. She, faithfully, tirelessly, making the drive in with her husband. He, accepting his role as passenger, accepting his wife's care. Sometime I could see a sheen of frustration, weariness and exasperation between them, but that aura of love never dimmed as far as I could tell.
My sister and I didn't get to the center as much for another two years while she did her treatments at home. When she did start more regular visits (while doing a different type of home treatment) we saw that things had changed some for Jerry and his wife as well. For one thing, the huge truck had been replaced by some type of small vehicle that seemed not quite as sturdy. (Jerry later told me that their children had recommended the change as a something more fitting to their mom's physical abilities. Climbing into and jumping down from the truck had gotten to be too much for her. Jerry preferred the truck because he felt it kept his wife safe in the Alaska weather and traffic.)
The other thing that broke a small piece of my heart was that Jerry was now in a wheelchair. He had to be helped out of the vehicle and into the chair by either his wife or, sometimes, one of the attendants at the clinic. His wife always hovered nearby, supervising the transfer. They still paused at the entrance to kiss, hug, reassure.
One day a couple of months ago, I happened to overhear an attendant refer to Jerry by his surname, which I had never bothered to know. I was a little startled because I recognized the fairly uncommon name as also belonging to an old acquaintance of one of my brothers.
I called and asked my brother about this guy's father. Turned out that "my" Jerry was the father of "Hugh."
The next time I saw Jerry, I mentioned the connection and he was as amused as I was.
"Small world, kid." (Okay, he was in his late 70's so it's okay with me that I'm 50 and he called me "kid.")
"Sure is, Jerry. Sure is."
About three weeks ago, not feeling well at all, I dropped my sister off at the clinic and returned home to rest. When she called me halfway through her session, I thought it was because she'd forgotten something at home or in the car so I answered, ready to tease her. I knew something was wrong the minute she said my name.
I swear my heart actually ached.
"One of the techs just told me," she said.
Jerry's wife had actually stayed with him for his treatment that day - something that didn't happen often since they had gotten older. He'd had a great treatment, had been his usual charming self, joking with everyone, teasing the techs, flirting with his wife.
When his treatment was over and he'd been un-tethered from the machine, he just suddenly dropped and died. He'd had a heart attack.
I thought of his wife. I thought of how she happened to be there on that day. Blessing or curse, I don't know.
I thought of how they'd always shared a kiss and a moment. And then I remembered something else.
One time when we were talking and I mentioned Jerry's wife, he had called her "my sweet girl." I can't remember the conversation, but he had said something like, "I have to see about it for my sweet girl there."
His sweet girl.
Of course, my sister and I wondered how Jerry's sweet girl was doing in the days after his death. We wanted to be able to send condolences - a card or a call, something.
Days passed with no newspaper obituary, no information passed along from the clinic staff. Nothing.
The other day, I Googled for information and found out that this family has had their share of heartaches. Untimely deaths of children and such. And now, the patriarch gone.
Maybe there will be no services. Maybe they are just dealing with their loss in a very closed and private way. I can respect that. I don't really need a funeral to say goodbye in my heart.
Rest in peace, Jerry. God will keep watch over your sweet girl.
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