old-woman-portrait-painting-davidSelecting birthday gifts for Mom is crazy hard, but I found the perfect something after three days of internet surfing. So, I ordered said present and arranged for shipping to arrive on her birthday.

On this special day, the UPS truck stopped, but no package was found on the front steps or anywhere on the porch. Yet, the shipping info showed the package as delivered. Dad asked our friendliest neighbors if they had seen her package.  No one had seen it. That left one possibility–it arrived at Irma’s house.

Irma is eighty-six and has dementia. She wears outsized flowery scrubs from her nursing days, which suggest she was once two Irmas bigger. Her reed thin frame looks friable, as if she would vanish in a puff of smoke if she fell.  Every day she delivers the morning paper to my parents and wanders the neighborhood searching for bus stops from another era.

Irma’s fifty-something son lives with her. We sometimes hear him yelling, but mostly he plunks his guitar and sings corny self-composed country songs.

Irma sometimes shows up at my parent’s house, dazed, bruised, and disoriented.  She’s fallen, or can’t find her son or long-dead husband. Mom has taken her to the emergency room three times. The family seems more annoyed than concerned, with more time spent arguing over who should be with her than her mental or physical health.

I digress.

Mom and I decided that her package (a black purse) could have been accepted by Irma. Gently, Mom asked Irma if her present had arrived at her house. Irma said no. After Mom left, a fever swept over Irma. She tore apart her house and visited my mom’s place three separate times, bringing  old and worn purses for Mom to inspect. The fourth time she came over, blood dripped from Irma’s nose. She had injured herself by trying to crawl into her clothes dryer to look for mom’s purse. Mom spent most of her birthday calming Irma down.

The next day, Dad found Mom’s package stuffed in the mail box. We debated about complaining to UPS, since they are not allowed to cram their parcels into USPS dedicated boxes. Mom was happy with her fancy travel purse and Irma continued to bring them their newspapers for a few years to come.

A need for closure prompted me to update this entry.

Five years have passed. After the purse incident, Irma’s mental state declined precipitously. Her family continued to bicker over her care-taking, with country music son fighting assisted living. Irma quit delivering the papers and roamed further afield. We watched, uncertain if we should intervene as she stood at the end of the street, waiting for a bus or some good thing to happen. Eventually, Irma fell badly enough to require hospitalization. She quit eating and dwindled away.

It is difficult to accept how some people’s lives end. Life, even its ending, is about dignity. She deserved more than a preoccupied son and neighbors who could only be there part of the time. Yet, in her final ambulatory days she still stepped out of her house with purpose and meaning. I will miss her.

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