I think of this new Delores as “Delores II,” though the staff call the two Delores-es (Delori in the plural?) “Delores B.” and “Delores L.”—a designation similar to what they would have experienced if they’d been in the same grade school class.
Delores’s husband, Bob, visits Golden Age at mealtime, like my dad, and the two men get reconnected. Delores has many physical ailments, including a broken wrist, and the beginnings of dementia. My mom is in constant la-la land, but she’s eating, and that’s what my dad wants. He feeds her off the plate they share: one spoonful of food for her, two spoons for him. I’m never there when my dad is, but I imagine that as Bob and Dad eat and chat, their wives—forgetful but not forgotten, silent but not ever shushed—might be convinced that this is a double date or they’re all sharing a sandwich together in “Grandma Gert’s apartment,” their six little kids playing in another room. I would guess that both men do not realize how much they missed male friendship until they have a guy their age to talk to again. I imagine that here at Golden Age, over juicy hotdishes and tough pork chops, they reminisce about the old neighborhood and the apartment building they shared. I would put money on the fact that Bob reads local obituaries as closely as my dad does, and about every other day they might discuss which Chippewa Falls person they know who died. One or the other tells something about that dead person, details that would never appear in an obit—where he lived as a kid and what sport he was best at, his jobs, where he drank, who he married, who his sisters married, where his kids worked and how they got the jobs they did—the kind of history that matters to my dad and Bob and many other old guys in small towns all across the world.
They are so chummy that Bob invites my dad over for boiled dinner the next week. This is a bachelor’s one-pot meal: some sort of meat and many vegetables simmered on top of the stove till it’s nearly soup consistency. My dad tells me that he’s not sure he should go. He eats supper with my mom, after all, and he doesn’t like driving after dark. I tell him that I’ll go and feed both Mom and Delores so the guys can have a night off. Then Delores takes a turn, which around here means stops eating.
One night I visit my dad and he tells me that Bob’s Delores died the day before. He says, “I’ll send an email out to all of your sisters. They’ll want to know.” He rarely seems upset when someone dies. I know, it’s inevitable, but still. Perhaps more than anything, Dad will miss talking to Bob every day.
“That was quick” I say. Dad knows exactly what I mean: Delores’s few weeks at Golden Age.
“Not really fair,” he says. I know exactly what he means: Mom has been there seven months now; Delores-Number-One has been there four years. We expected one of them to be next. Dying out of turn. A concept seven months ago I would never have imagined.
Better to die the first weeks than after the complete tour. Isn’t that what soldiers used to say? It’s not fair for me to compare Golden Age to the horrors of the Vietnam War, but I’m being dramatic and sad. Another reside has died. Not the one I’m praying to die. And not my mother.
Then it occurs to me that maybe God got the wrong Delores. My prayers were for Delores B. / Delores-Number-One. On the drive home from my dad’s house, I think about how stupid I was not to put Delores’s full name on my prayer flag. It’s a foolish thought, but I’m grieving. For Delores II and her family, given the sadness and loss they must be feeling but also the tremendous relief that her pain is over, and their waiting is done. For Delores-Number-One, still hanging on.
What would my mom say about of all this? I can hear her in my head tonight, her voice as clear and strong as it once was: The thing about prayer is the time it takes: God’s schedule, not yours, Patti.