Friday, February 16, 2007

Guest Writer

From: Sal
Subject: pipeline
Date: February 11, 2007 7:36:41 AM PST

Ceci n'est pas une pipe. C'est mon pal, Sal.

A story about Dad.

The techs at Dad’s nursing home would come and go. At first we tried to get to know all of them and remember their names, but then we realized that the three shifts of constantly overturning staff were simply too overwhelming. Some stayed for months, and we actually grew to love them, but many others just sort of blurred and overlapped in our minds.

There was one tech with whom I bonded early on (but who moved to another wing so that I seldom if ever saw her) and whose name I never remember (something vaguely like “Letitia” but without the L; she said no one ever remembered it correctly and so she would answer to whatever people called her). She told me the following story.

While working as a tech at the nursing home, she was studying nursing in Gallatin, and she was required to take a humanities elective, so she chose art appreciation. She was reading the textbook one night and became very frustrated over an image by Magritte, a painting of a pipe with the words below it “Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe.).” It was a sort of joke by Magritte about people wanting a picture to be an exact replication of an object when it was in fact only a representation of one and therefore was simply what it was, a painting, and not the object itself. She became quite disgusted and discouraged by this and thought, why do I have to take this stupid class?

Soon after this while at work at the nursing home she walked into Dad’s room and saw the pictures I had taped to his wall.

I had tried to find pictures that would remind him of his life and his former life; all family members and houses and cars and coworkers and friends and his pipe and his violin. In my frenzied Internet search for images of a pipe, the only good one I could find was this Magritte painting. (Dad had always smoked a pipe, and it seemed odd for him not to have one. We’d finally had to take them away from him when Mom discovered him one day trying to set his empty hand on fire with a lighter, thinking he was actually holding his pipe.) Dad seemed to enjoy looking at the pictures, and the pictures helped the employees learn all the family members’ names and gave them something to talk to him about.

So this tech walked into Dad’s room and saw this Magritte painting of the pipe on the wall, and thought it was divine revelation telling her that she was in fact in the very class she needed to be in.

I ran into her yesterday, two and a half weeks after Dad died, when I dropped something off at the nursing home. She reminded me of the story about seeing the pipe picture and said that she had decided right then that she must visit Dad often because he must have a direct pipeline to God. (I didn’t realize till I wrote this how funny her choice of words was.)

She told me what a sweetie he had been. “He was always such a sweetie,” she said. Then we both thought of those terrible sundowning moments of late-afternoon and early evening agitation, hallucinations, and combativeness that dementia patients can be so prone to. And she added, “Well, he had his moments, but always after dinner, before he fell asleep, he quieted down. I would talk to him and ask him questions about the pictures on his wall. When I got to the pictures of you and your mom, I would say to him, ‘I’ll bet you really miss them, don’t you?’ And then he would make the oddest sound, as if he were trying to say something. I always said, “I know for a fact that one of them will be coming to visit you tomorrow.” And then he would just peacefully go to sleep.”

I told her that I, too, thought he must have had a direct pipeline to God, because he took his last breaths just as the “Ave Maria” on the CD player came to its final “Amen.”