Walking into the room, I saw she was asleep. She looked peaceful in her bed, covered up to her neck with several sheets. Hesitation at the prospect of disturbing her rest competed against the desire to spend time with someone whose time was quickly running out. After a brief moment I decided to sit in the wheelchair beside her bed and simply be there. If she woke I would talk with her. If not, that was fine, too.
As chance would have it, she did wake. I put my hand on her knee. For a time we were just there. No questions about how she felt, what medications she was taking, or idle chit-chat about the weather. We were just sitting. She started to smile.
“What are you thinking about?”, I asked.
With another smile she said, “Nothing. I try not to think too much.”
The readings in existentialism flooded my brain and I needed to know more. “Why? Are you afraid?”
“Are you worried?”
“Then what are you trying to not think about?”
I wondered if it was her own future she was trying not to think about, or if it was the future of her husband of 72 years she would soon be leaving behind.
I pushed on. “So what do you think about?”
“The past. I’m remembering a high school teacher.”
“Really? Do you remember the teacher?”
“His name was James Frances. He really helped me with things.”
I couldn’t believe she could remember his name. She was 92. High school had been more than 70 years ago. What could he have taught her to endear his name in her mind this long? My curiosity got the better of me.
“You remember his name? What did he help you with that you can remember him after all this time?”
“He taught me how to balance a check-book.”
It would be easy to dismiss this as a