As I was walking along my typical Wednesday morning garbage pickup route in Langley Memorial Hospital, trekking like a droid – programmed to do what he routinely does, blankly staring at every crease in the grounds of the parking lot we are tasked to “beautify”, fiercely searching for cigarette butts or whatever rubbish the lot has, a feint call from afar broke my seemingly placid, reflective mood.
“Jasper! Jasper!” said Dave’s raspy old voice. He was with Cam when he was calling my attention.
I remember trying to remember what I was thinking back then, when my thinking was abruptly interrupted. Nope, I couldn’t recall what it was, so I just responded to Dave and Cam, “What is it?”
“Those ladies are nice!” as Dave and Cam were pointing towards the windows of the hospice area. I hurriedly looked at the direction the guys were pointing at thinking “What ladies?” There were two windows side by side, belonging to, I assume, two different rooms. Peeking through the beige and off-white curtains were two ladies. Lady # 1 in window #1 showed the biggest grin paired with an unwavering wave. She was as bright as that August morning. Her gray hair was put-up nicely. I am betting she was around 80-ish already. At this time, Cam continued to wave back to Lady #1, like a mirror.
Window #2 was a different picture. It was the “Yin” of window #1’s “Yang”. Behind the curtains was a lady, probably the same age as lady #1, hiding behind the curtain. The room looked gloomy. She was anything but welcoming, she looked upset even. I felt a bit hesitant to look her way fearing we did something unpleasant or we made her feel uncomfortable. A blink after, her curtains were closed.
Then I remembered what I was thinking of before our window encounter. My thoughts belonged to my late grandma. I was thinking of her. I was missing her. She passed away almost 2 years ago. She lived with my parents in the Philippines, a full 16-hour plane ride away. She passed in the company of her family, our family…well, minus me, my wife, my very own family. We were not there. I miss her. I miss the completeness of our family.
Days passed and we continued to say hi to the “Window Ladies”. They brightened our day. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, bright and cheery Lady#1 was at her default bubbly mood smiling away like there is no tomorrow. While Lady#2 would be behind her off-white curtain, letting go of the daintiest wave to us. But she was always there, to a point that we felt like she was expecting us. Then one day, finally, she gave out a smile.
I thought of how different and similar both ladies were. They both have the quality medical care I assume that was rendered to geriatrics living in a hospice. I believe all their health related needs are attended to (I may be wrong). I just thought of the difference in the twinkle in the eyes of Lady#1 and Lady#2 as they show their pearly whites. They look the same but different. Lady#1’s smile was a smile out of habit, a smile that produced lines in her face brought about by years of practice, a typical “Hi and hello” smile, the one that you throw to someone you regularly come across in the Skytrain. But Lady#2’s smile was not the same. It was a lingering smile, it was a smile that pierces through your soul, the one that talks to you, the one that radiates longing, the one that says “stay a bit more and wave with me”, a smile that makes you smile the exact same way she does. It was warm and it did not bring out laughter, but something else, probably joy? It was just different.
We enjoyed the time when the crew’s smiles and waves are the reasons why the window ladies smile and wave. The crew looked forward to waving and smiling to the ladies all the time. Driving in our pick-up truck was like driving to the movies, waiting for the next attraction. I am betting that the ladies felt the same (or did they?). All I know is that all parties involved in this wave and smile palooza looked forward to doing so the next chance we all have.
Then one day, both curtains were closed. They were closed since then for several days, weeks. The gang started asking if the ladies moved out. I just said “maybe, perhaps” but I am guessing something worse. This made me think of the last time we saw them. Window lady#1 was surrounded by family, balloons, flowers and everything. However, all I remember about Window Lady #2 was that she blew us kisses. She never did that before. It was just a wave and a tidbit of a smile, that piercing smile. That day, she blew us a ton of kisses until the crew was out of sight. She looks like the type that will not smother you with affection but that day, it was raining kisses and it poured.
Next thing we know, curtains were wide open again, the gang was staring from afar, expecting our Yin and Yang smiles but there was nothing. Both rooms were empty. Vacant.
This made me wonder. What is the reason behind such difference in the faces of both ladies? I tried to be in their shoes and empathize with them. I tried to live on the other side of the window. This led me to writing (hence the poem). I just wanted to write about them, us. While I was writing, I felt pain. I am not sure whether the pain came from empathizing with the ladies or just with the make-believe version of myself in their shoes, or is it because they reminded me of my own “Nanay” – that is what I called my grandmother. I have no idea. I just felt pain while jotting down words on paper.
I never really mourned “Nanay’s” loss. Was her smile that of Window Lady#1’s or Window Lady#2?
As the blur of my eyes fade slowly
And I am wheeled in by my orderly
To be put to place where I am daily
I try to save what’s left of my memory
I reminisce what I can remember
Though its only bits and pieces I gather
All the years I have spent living
And the moments I wait before dying
I sit in front of the glass window
Watching people come and go
Staring blankly in space
Touching my wrinkly old face
Behind me a bed and a lamp for reading
Aside from those I have nothing
Oh! I do have people who give me medicine
And those who keep my room clean
But a thing that I fail to understand
Is why nobody is holding my hand
Ooh how I miss the days that I give all the care
And I’m not the one receiving it in a wheelchair
I miss the days that I would not cringe
With every movement of my rusty hinge
To walk around and go to where I want to
And not to go because I need to
When did I lose everything?
Are these the perks of retiring?
To wait for my next round of pills
Might as well run to the hills
To be housed in a house and not a home
To spend days mostly alone
To be given what’s required and not desired
To make me healthy yet I’m still tired
I have lots of reasons to be happy
As compared to other elderly
Sufficient care is given to me
To a point I am lucky
but the thing that I lack
Is a touch of a hand and rub on my back
Of someone who genuinely pays attention
Not someone I paid for attention
My sons, my friends my granddaughter
I wish every day we are together
But this old lady would rather be lonely
Than to hold down the lives of her family
Come to think of it, with my age
I have to be proud of myself for reaching the end-stage
I lived a life that went up and down
So why would I leave with a frown?
Now, what I have is my legacy
Of a life lived fully
Though I had made faults in the way
But they all add up to who I am today.
As I sit here in front of the window
I heard the alarm ring, time to go
I gently close my eyes and say goodbye
To the world that answered my “why”
By Jasper Macabulos — Semiahmoo House Society
Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community.
The Semiahmoo Foundation exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society.