September 14, 2012 by The Citron Review
by Meghan MacNamara
The night I first met Betty I was stunned at how well she looked, what little evidence there was that she was dying. She was my first hospice patient, and I expected someone less feisty and alive, someone pale and shaken, weakened. Betty sat in her brown felt armchair, balls of pink and white yarn in her lap and a canister of oxygen on the floor beside her. “So you are the girl to cook my dinner?” she asked, eyes still focused on her knitting as she pulled the recently knit rows into perfect alignment with a sharp tug. “I thought I would have beef stew. Meat’s defrosting on the counter.”
I knelt to make eye contact and noticed rubber bands around her foot and shoe, a clear Jelly sandal like those I wore as a child in the eighties. “I’m Meghan,” I told her. The hospice volunteer coordinator told me that Betty was a late stage congestive heart failure patient who was also bipolar or schizophrenic – the family wasn’t sure which, just that she was crazy. She was severely depressed and suicidal according to the coordinator, but she smiled as she knit, seeming more curmudgeonly than sad. Her foot, already purple from poor circulation and a weakened heart, swelled on either side of the rubber band. “Is there a recipe for the beef stew? I am vegetarian so I have no idea how…”
“Are you married?” Betty balled up her knitting and not so carefully shoved it in a plastic grocery bag.
“Why aren’t you wearing a ring?” She folded her hands in her lap and smirked.
Remembering the coordinator’s warning – some sort of undiagnosed mental illness – I tread carefully. Besides, self-disclosure is an enormous no-no. “I don’t like jewelry so I don’t wear it. My husband doesn’t wear his either.” I turned and looked into the kitchen behind me, hoping she would remember that she was hungry, that she had a hankering for beef stew and that I was the girl who was there to cook it for her.
“The recipe is in the recipe tin out there.” She wrestled the grocery bag from her walker and fished out her knitting again. “You’re wearing earrings and a bracelet, so I don’t believe you.” After two stitches and before I could stand up, she asked, “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Yes,” I said, surprising myself.
Meghan MacNamara earned her Master of Fine Arts degree from Vermont College. Her nonfiction work has appeared in Mind Sprocket Magazine, Fourth Genre and Spittoon Magazine. She currently teaches writing and medical humanities in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, co-directs a dog rescue, and volunteers with a hospice organization.