Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sweet Opal


We have lived in the small town of Camas for 24 years. Many people have come and gone in that time, but there are a few "old-timers" who were here when we moved in and are still around. One is a little old lady named Opal. I first got to know her in Relief Society. She was the master quilter. Each year we had an assignment to make 4 quilts to donate to Deseret Industries. This was a big project for a small ward Relief Society, but thanks to Opal, it always got done. She lived in a tiny little apartment a few blocks from the downtown area. Every time I went to visit her, she would have a quilt set up that took up the whole place. She was also our oldest son's primary teacher when he was four years old, and as he grew up, she loved to tell me the same story about him over and over: "When Scott was in my class-- oh my goodness he's growing up isn't he? Anyway, one day in sharing time the question was asked, 'What is the gospel?' and Scott raised up his little hand and said, 'All the good things.' And it just melted my heart-- he was right on the money, of course it is all of the good things!" Over the years, her hearing deteriorated and she had some health problems but she always ended up back in that little apartment and back to her quilting. Eventually, it got to the point where I would have to yell pretty loud for her to hear me, even with her hearing aids. In fact, one of her visiting teachers told me she took her son with her to visit Opal and after they left he looked up at his mom and asked, "Why do you go to that lady's house and yell at her?"

Then she got very sick. She was in the hospital for a week and when she came back to her apartment, she was pretty out of it. She would forget to take her medication and she was often confused when I went to check on her. We assigned someone to call her twice a day and yell into the phone a reminder to take her pills. She was 84 years old and we thought maybe she was ready to go. But she held on. Eventually, her family had to put her in a nursing home. It was a sad day when I packed up her tiny little apartment. Her daughter-in-law was there and the two of us cleaned out her tidy cupboards and boxed up the many, many spools of thread and scraps of fabric. She ended up in a tiny little room (which made her apartment seem like the Taj Mahal) in a pleasant enough nursing home, behind the Shell station. When I went to visit her, she didn't know who I was. She laid in bed most of the day and didn't want to eat. I thought maybe this was it, but she held on. I stretched out the time between visits because I had to disturb her rest just to have her wonder who I was and what the heck was I doing in her room. She had family here in town and I knew they were looking out for her and I didn't see the need to upset her needlessly.

Then yesterday, I was driving by and thinking of her as I always do when I come up that hill and glance past the Shell station to that little blue building where she lives. This time I felt prompted to turn in, so I went in to see how she was doing. I braced myself for the worst. I assumed she was probably further into dementia than when I had seen her many months before.I wasn't even sure if she was in the same room... I walked past the TV room and looked at the two little old ladies sitting there, and what do you know! One of them was Opal. She sat there staring at the TV somewhat blankly. I hesitated to go up to her, but I did. I touched her arm and said, "Hello Opal" She looked at me for a minute, seemed to be trying to place me, so I said, "I'm JoAnna" I wasn't sure she heard me. Then she took my hand and said, "I know JoAnna. I know who you are." I pulled a chair up close to her. I saw that she wasn't wearing her hearing aids, and I felt a little funny yelling at her in that public area of the rest home. But she seemed to expect me to say something, so we visited: me yelling and Opal replying in her soft voice. She told me her son Nolan sometimes takes her for a drive. She asked me if I was still president. (I was Relief Society president back when I helped her move-- back when she didn't seem to know who I was!) I held her hand and she turned toward me and said, "You get to this point and you think of your life before- it seems so long ago and far away. JoAnna, I think of you and I think of someone who is smart and has it all together but, you don't think you're all high and mighty like some intelligent people do, you are always fun and friendly, always have a kind word, always there to help." I was right, she is delirious. She may be hard of hearing but she can see clearly-- she saw right into my heart, saw the person I wish I was.

1 comment:

siara said...

this is adorable. i miss little opal. but can i just say how hilarious it is that you labeled this post under "elderly"? hahaha