20 July

Into The Silence, Ed And Me

by Jon Katz
Ed Gulley, Portrait

It always fascinates me to see how even the most traumatic and painful experiences in life can become routinized. Human beings are adaptable, they acclimate and adjust and rationalize even during the hardest times in their lives.

As we see from the news every day, almost anything becomes normal after a while. It is now normal for me to see Ed in bed sleeping,  barely moving. That is the new normal.

Ed and I have slipped into a new chapter in the suddenly dramatic story of our uncommon friendship. I call it the Silent Time.

It is really that mystical time, the waiting time, the unnatural time  between life and death, the time i try to capture in my photography, the time that sticks in my mind later.

Every afternoon, after the hospice aide has left, I text Carol to see if she wants me to come over, or if it’s okay to come over. I never go there without checking in first, sometimes it isn’t okay to go. And she will tell me so. She knows I won’t be hurt if it isn’t a good day to visit.

And the last thing I want is to visit someone who needs something else.

If it is okay – she always asks Ed – I drive to Bejosh Farm. I stop on the way at Moses Farm Stand, run by the descendants of Grandma Moses herself.

I get six ears of corn, strawberries if they are available, blueberries if they are not. The peaches from Pennsylvania have arrived and the sweet melons are in. Today, I got a small box of peaches, the sweetcorn, and a melon for Carol and her family.

She loves fresh fruit.

I know this is good to buy, because the ones I bought the day before are always gone when I get there.

I know those are things she likes. Ed isn’t eating much any longer. I brought Carol a book of daily prayers and inspirational sayings, she loves books like that.

I don’t say much to Carol when I knock on the door and walk in. She is almost always right by Ed, watching him, handing  him a cup of water,  straightening the sheets.

I glance over to see if Ed is sitting up or sleeping.

Carol doesn’t need conversation from me, she needs me to sit and watch Ed while she runs to the bank or the grocery store or goes out to the barn to visit the calves or writes on her blog, or tries to take a short nap.

If there’s something she needs to talk to me about, she will say so and we go into the kitchen.

Otherwise, we hug, say hello, she takes the food and brings it into the kitchen to put away, I take out a novel and put down my camera bag and go and sit in a metal chair right across from where Ed is sleeping.  I don’t take many photos any more.

By this time of day, and after visitors,  Ed is exhausted and is sleeping. He used to greet me, sit up and talk or draw and sketch with me. We don’t do that any more. I say hello when I sit down, to let him know i am there if he can  hear me.

In recent days,  he doesn’t move at all,  doesn’t open his eyes or stir, I hear his breath is uneasy and I see his eyes open and blink. I see his arms getting thinner every day. His left arm, the one he can’t move any longer, is usually hanging out between the bars of the hospital bed.

I see someone who is  gathering himself to leave.

If he knows I am there, he doesn’t say, and I sit down with my book and start reading.

Carol said she got Ed to eat something before I came.

He wouldn’t eat or take any medication last night or early in the morning.  Ed’s brother came to visit today and Carol believes that inspired Ed to eat and take some of his medications. Is that a good thing, I wonder?  He calmed down then, and Carol felt he was better than yesterday.

Carol is all about family, and when family comes, she is happier. She looks exhausted to me, she said she sat up with Ed all night.

I sat with Ed in silence, Carol was in the next room, writing her blog posts for the day.

It is a peaceful time for me, a meditation, and in its own way, a conversation with Ed. I turn off my cell phone, I listen to the silence.

I have learned in my life that you don’t have to speak to have a conversation, you can just be present. I feel Ed’s presence, and on some level, I believe he knows that I am there.

I love the silence, it wraps itself around me, it calms and heals me. I hope Ed is feeling the same thing.

And that is what is needed from me now, a silent presence, a chance for Carol to break away and take care of her life without worrying about Ed falling out of bed or tangling himself in sheets and blankets. She has come to trust me, she will go out for an hour or so sometimes.

Ed, too, is okay being silent around me. That is also what he needs.

I  read about 50 pages of my novel, then got up to find Carol and tell her I was leaving to call the Bingo game at the Mansion.

She thanked me for coming, and for the food. Every day she tells me I am doing too much, and every day I tell her I am doing  very little. I get to go home. She always laughs or smiles at this. Every hour she gets to rest or do her own work is precious.

I say goodbye, I’ll check in tomorrow after lunch and come by if she or Ed wants.

We hugged again and I leave. I am tired, Maria thinks my fatigue is emotional. I cancelled my writing workshop until September.

We are in a pattern now, a rhythm. We are in the Silent Time, the time of waiting and listening and feeling.

5 Comments

  1. Your journey with Ed is so beautiful. I remember many years ago reading your book about volunteering with hospice. And now here you are practicing with your beloved brother by his side while he prepares for the journey ahead. I hope and I do believe when the time comes Ed will be holding his hand from the other side to hold and guide you. Although I have a feeling it won’t be a silent journey. I see much joy, laughter and hugging.

    I pray thats many many years down the road. It comforts me to know you have each other. This has been a emotional, profound deep path you are allowing us all to witness. Thank you for your gift of writing.

    You are a blessing Jon Katz. You do good💛

  2. Your silent presence is a beautiful testament of your friendship and love for this dear man and his family.

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