Wednesday, February 2, 2011

RIP, Dear Lillian: 1942 - 2011

Photos from the funeral parlor website

I went to her Retirement Party at Williamson's Restaurant and read a poem I hastily composed at the last minute, saying, among other things that even the roses on the blouses she wore loved this woman. She asked for a copy of the poem to keep in her scrapbook.
Former director of the Upper Moreland Public Library, Willow Grove PA

She lived with kidney dialysis for 10 long years. She'd be at "the pod" - the dialysis unit - four times a week, four hours at a time (these figures are more or less correct) until in later years she did it at home.

She told me winter was the worst, people would die in the winter, and sure enough, she died on January 19, but she died at home. She never felt a thing. It was quick and painless, according to husband Bob, who I called as soon as I found out (from neighbor Nancy across the street).

In 2002 when I quit my job as psychotherapist at Family Services Association, a job I despised b/c of ideological differences with staff, I needed to keep busy during the day. Other bipolar people will know how important this is lest our minds roam free and we begin to eat ourselves alive. Our mind needs something to focus on and if it ain't work, then it'll be ourselves.

I began volunteering for Lillian. Whatever she wanted me to do I would do. Photocopying, shelving books, but mostly writing out index cards of books she ordered from the library journals. Such tedious work! I loved every minute of it.

I was doing it for Mrs. Burnley.

Lillian had three sons and five granddaughters.

In her office we had intimate chats. No subject was out of bounds. I watched her slow decline from the ravages of diabetes and she told me how painful it was to walk. Her cane leaned against the file cabinets. Finally she needed a walker.

Always tho she dressed in her signature life-proclaiming garments wild with tropical flowers and foliage.

She was a marvelous storyteller and I transformed several of her stories into poems.

Mom, said my son Dan one time, you can't use her real name. I reluctantly changed it to Mrs Jackson, tho she could be no one other than Mrs Burnley.

I learned more about dialysis talking to her than you could in a book, little knowing that someday I myself would suffer from the end-stage renal disease. When my own doctor wanted me to see a surgeon to be fitted with a fistula, I rebelled, bought time, and finally decided it was something I could never subject my body to, I'd rather let death move in slowly.

She and husband Bob went on cruise ships equipped with the dialysis machine.

When I called Bob yesterday to give my condolences - "it was two weeks ago she died" he said - I couldn't bear to hang up the phone. Being with him was like being with her.

She believed in an afterlife, I said, didn't she?

Yes, he said.

Well, when you see her again in the afterlife, please tell her I miss her and think of her everytime I go to the Upper Moreland Public Library.

When she answered the office phone, you know she loved that library. She used as a paperweight an outdoor rock, something yours truly might do.

I remember her large-screen computer monitor due to failing diabetic vision. And the patch of vibrant blue sky out her office window.

RIP Dear Mrs. Burnley.

1 comment: