Good Night Kiss

I was always moved by a long lasting love of elderly people. The scene, be it in a movie, T.V series or just from my imagination, of elderly people well groomed, looking with respect and love at each other, was always a role-model for me. I say to myself: “I would like to grow old without the typical estrangement, distance and grumbling of old people”. In people who grow old with love I can see the innocence, the completeness and a kind of statement – “yes, it is possible!” No wonder that the following story touched me:

Every afternoon when I came on duty as the evening nurse, I would walk the halls of the nursing home, pausing at each door to chat and observe. Often, Kate and Chris would be sitting with their big scrapbooks in their laps reminiscing over the photographs. How lovely they looked, sitting together, the light from the window shining on their white heads and their time-wrinkled faces smiling at the memory of the years. How little the young know of loving, I’d think. How foolish to think they have a monopoly on such a precious commodity.

Sometimes when we, the staff members, saw Kate and Chris walking slowly holding hands, our conversation would turn to a discussion of the couple’s love and devotion. We all knew that Kate was dependent upon Chris. How would Kate function if Chris were to die first? We wondered.

Bedtime followed a ritual.  Kate would be sitting in her chair, in nightgown and slippers, awaiting my arrival with the medicine. She would take her pill and then, very carefully, Chris would help her from chair to bed and tuck the covers around her frail body. Chris would turn off the light above her head and tenderly he would bend and they would kiss gently. Only then would he turn and accept his own medication. As I walked away I could hear Chris say, “Good-night, Kate,” and her returning voice, “Good-night, Chris.”

I had been off duty 2 days. When I returned, the first news I heard was that Chris died from a heart attack.” How’s Kate” I asked. “Bad,” the answer was. I went into Kate’s room. She sat in her chair, motion-less and staring. I took her hands in mine but her eyes never shifted. “Kate, I just found out about Chris. I’m so sorry.” At the word Chris her eyes came back to life and tears welled up and slid down her cheeks. “Chris is gone,” she whispered.

We pampered Kate for a while, letting her eat in her room, surrounding her with special attention. Then gradually the staff worked her back into the old schedule. Bedtime was the worst part of her day. Although she had been granted her request to move to Chris’s bed, and although the staff chatted and laughed with her, still Kate remained silent and sadly withdrawn. I’d find her wide awake for hours, staring at the ceiling. The weeks passed and the bedtime wasn’t any better. Why this time of day more than the other hours? I wondered.

Then one night I kissed her wrinkled cheek and I said to her impulsively, “Kate, could it be you miss your good-night kiss?” It was as though I had opened the floodgates and tears coursed down her face. “Chris always kissed me good-night,” she cried and her hands gripped mine, “I miss him so and I just can’t seem to go to sleep without his kiss.”
“I know,” I whispered.
“Thank you for giving me a kiss,” she said, her eyes brimming with gratitude. “You know,” she said confidentially, “Chris used to sing me a song and at night I think about it.”
“How did it go?”
Kate smiled, cleared her throat and her voice, small with age but still melodious, lifted softly in song: So kiss me, my sweet, and so let us part. And when I grow too old to dream, that kiss will live in my heart.  

(The song is from a film, 1935, by Hammerstein. The story was told by Phyllis Volkens, the nurse, from ”Chicken Soup for the woman’s Soul”, by Jack Canfield & Mark Hansen, Copyright c 1996.)

When I copied the story from the book, tears came to my eyes.  I read it now again and I feel a pain crawling up my throat and envy is whispering “I wish I’d grow old like them…”

Fireworks (33)
Shuka, from Madrid Spain
Thursday, July 9, 2009

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