After I visited my mom in the Alzheimer’s unit, I would often spot my friend Nina, sitting as always in her wheelchair near the nursing home’s ice cream parlor. Nina was outgoing and always greeted me by bellowing “Hello, Babe!” She was so sweet.
“What’s you been doing today, Nina,” I asked her one day.
“Playing bingo. I won 50 cents.”
“Great, how do you plan to spend it?”
“Right here,” she said, pointing to the ice cream parlor. “I’d like two big scoops please.” She relaxed a fist to reveal two shiny quarters.
“Your money’s no good with me,” I said, laughing.
I walked in to get Nina’s cone and told the counter person what I wanted and for whom. “Nina’s diabetic and can’t have two scoops,” she said. “But we can give her a small dish of strawberry.”
Nina was smiling as she took the treat from me, then turned serious, and her eyes glistened with tears.
“What’s wrong, Nina?” I asked.
“I lost my roommate today.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that,” I said, touching her arm in a reassuring way.
“I held her hand when she died,” Nina said, choking back the tears. “She was 97.”
I rose to leave, shaking Nina’s hand in a goodbye, but she tightened her hold, and said:
“Come back and see me.”
“Yes, I will. I’ll stop by especially to see you.”
In the months ahead, our friendship deepened. We talked about many things, sometimes-silly things, but never about her roommate and the night she died. Then one day, as I was passing her usual spot at the ice cream parlor, I noticed Nina was missing. That’s funny, I thought, she’s here every day. I walked down the hall and asked a nurse about her whereabouts.
“Sorry,” she said, “Nina passed away in the middle of the night.”
I choked back tears, and wondered:
Who held her hand when she died?
–By Ron Cooper