I live in northeast Oklahoma. In most of the South, telling a person “how the cow ate the cabbage” means telling them the unvarnished truth even if it’s not pleasant.
My assignment for one particular lovely spring day visiting Hospice patients included a dear named Mary Catherine. I was delighted to find such a darling home! It had white clapboard siding with pinkish red shutters and a porch swing on the west side of the porch. There were pink and red tulips and budding peonies lining the stepping stone walkway to the antique front entry door. It had an oval beveled glass front and was painted just a shade lighter than the shutters. A gentle breeze was carrying the scent of her flowerbeds to my senses and made me smile all over. It had been a rough winter. All of my patients were welcoming spring with open arms!
I was just having visions of my Grandmother in her flowerbed when I heard my patient’s voice. “Come on in here! Door’s unlatched.”
Oh! The inside of the home was just as charming as the outside. There was flowered wallpaper from the ‘40’s on the entry walls, a china cabinet with pink, cranberry, and green Depression-era glassware. And there Mary Catherine sat in her overstuffed winged back chair that also had a flowered print on it. She had just the prettiest white hair all pulled back and up, and she was wearing a flannel rose-colored gown with a ruffled apron with maroon rickrack on the top of the bodice. I was beginning to get the clue that she loved pinks and reds. She was holding her TV remote in the pocket on one side and the panic alert button for help in the other pocket.
“Well, come on in, nurse. As you can see, I’m surrounded with all these dishes and antiques, and I’m sorting out what goes to which child and grandchild and niece or nephew. I’ve got a friend who is going to come over after a bit and put them in their designated boxes. You’d think that this would depress me terribly bad, but it’s been a good morning. I’m enjoying looking over each piece and remembering when I got it and what was going on when me and Henry bought it. Bless him! He’s been gone nearly twenty-five years now.
“I know you come to check my vital signs and see how my ticker’s doing. But, before you do anything else, I want you to sit on the embroidered footstool-not that leather one, it’s wobbly—and let me inform you about how the cow eats the cabbage around here!
“I’ve been up there in that big city hospital for several days and about a month ago before that. You see my heart is wearing out. I’ve died twice and they shocked the snot out of me and brought me back both times. I’ve told them as plain as I could before I left that ICU room that they’re not to do that anymore. I was already having the gift of seeing Heaven and feeling the peace that we don’t have here on this realm, when BAM! I’m back in my cold ole’ body and feeling all that pain and bother. Lordy!!
“I’m too old for a heart transplant. I don’t want any surgery or another pacemaker or another valve replacement. I want to go on. It’ll happen again and, when it does, if anyone does that CPR stuff on me and puts me on that breathing machine, I’ll haunt them when I do finally get to die!”
I listened and wrote everything down. My supervisor had already told me that Mary Catherine had already signed the proper paperwork while in the hospital. She was home now, to die. But she needed to spit it out and make sure that everyone knew she meant business.
Her heart was very weak, and her lungs were not 100% either but her spirit was strong, and she worked hard on those belongings. She was happy. A friend and a neighbor and a niece came to help her get it all boxed up and labeled before I left while Mary Catherine sat dozing quietly in her chair.
We were scheduled to visit again the next day and help her with some laundry and some skin care and I was going to sneak out there and cut some of her flowers to put in a Roseville pottery vase I saw on her kitchen counter. I thought she might like to see them before they wilted. But as I was making out my list of patients to see for the day, the call came in from her family. The neighbor found her that morning in her chair. She was gone.
I couldn’t help but smile. She and Henry.
There were so many gifts the patients gave me over the years in educating me about life and death. But the best gifts were those visions they would share as they were transitioning, and those who had NDEs and would share those stories as well. They were not afraid to die. And they didn’t care if you believed their stories or not. They knew where they were going and were at peace.