The last two years of my mother's life were spent in the dementia unit of a nursing home. One warm summer day I stopped by for a quick visit with Gracie in the car. When I mentioned to the supervisor of the facility that I was going outside to take water to my dog, she told me to bring her into the building. Within minutes, Gracie's unofficial career as a candy striper had begun.
She sauntered into the building with the confidence of a politician and the smile of a USO show girl. Always the belle of the ball, she quickly won over the staff and the residents and added an element of fun to potentially monotonous visits. Gracie was tailor made for the job; she went through her repertoire of tricks on command and never made notice of the errant senior hand tugging at her tail. I wasn't surprised-she is the ultimate party girl.
Gracie and I joined my father at the nursing home at 9:30 p.m. on May 22, 2007. I drove him home at about midnight and returned with my co-pilot. She sat patiently with me until 4:00 a.m., when she tried to crawl into bed with Mom's roommate. I accepted this as a sign that we should head back to the house. At 6:00 a.m. we got the call.
Although I had every intention of returning to the nursing home with Gracie, I only managed to stop by once or twice. Enduring a loved one's stay in such a place is not easy, but I must say my experience was not entirely unpleasant. Gracie had accompanied me on every visit; sharing her spirit was a gift I gave as well as received.