In That Plain White Room

I stood at the foot of his bed.

In that plain white room.

To be more precise, less than half of this plain white room.   That really almost appears grungy grey.  Not because of dirt, but because of it’s lack of energy.   That’s where he lay.  Clean bed.  Evidence of food, water, and care.   Can’t deny those things.   They are all around him in the bland interior of where he will lie out the remainder of his days.

In the windowsill, because he was lucky enough to get that bed, sit four picture frames.   With people who represent his family.

There are no pictures on the walls.   No personal touches like his own bedspread or comforter or pillow.  No over stuffed chair he could recline in.  No dresser to put his own belongings in or on.

I stood there watching and listening while he spoke with someone else.

He entertained us, though I don’t think that was his purpose, by telling us stories of his life.  And I envisioned him in the sun.  Building his house.   Laughing with his wife.  Living life.  He laughed and we smiled.  His eyes went back and forth between us, pulling us both, welcoming us both, to his life.

I wished, not for the first time, to be able to go back.  As if I had a super power, to go back and be in a moment of his life when I could see him as he remembered himself.  To experience that hot sun he surely felt as he hammered and nailed the frame of his house together.   To feel the excitement of moving in and celebrating the holidays they so much enjoyed.   I would pick that as my super power if ever given the chance.    To be present for the moments of life when people are strong and life is theirs.   I want that experience of theirs, to matter to me, to feel it.  It may only be a story to some.  But when I hear him tell it-it’s his existence.  It’s what mattered once and matters still.

He talked for as long as he could about these stories.  And I didn’t want him to have to come back to today any more than any one of us there listening to him did, surely though, not as much as he.

We all came back to this day.   And our purpose.   I liked where we were, better.

I’m pretty sure we all did.

I looked at the white, lackluster walls, the curtain that served as his privacy.   Where once, an entire house built by his hand, served that purpose.

I sigh.

I’ve got news for you.  You don’t think you’re going there.   Neither did he.  Or any one of those old souls who lived with purpose and intent to master this thing we call life.

But there he is.

There, so shall some of us, be.

50 thoughts on “In That Plain White Room

  1. This is very timely, Colleen … I’m reading Dr. Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal” (highly recommend it) and Michelle is with her family for her aunt’s funeral today.


  2. Beautifully written, Colleen! I feel time ticking so loudly that it tempers my actions and keeps me focused. Without knowing specifics, I know I have precious little time left, and less every day, and that is part of what motivates me to spend so much quality time with my family and writing my books. The people and books I had a hand in creating are my legacy.


  3. I love how you write about this so eloquently and allow us to visualize the scene. This is such a sad story, but I’m happy that he still has those wonderful memories to look back on and to bring smiles to his face.


  4. Very sad, but look what pleasure you gave him just by listening and allowing him to share. That is a gift and I hope we have people in our lives who will give us their time and listen as you did. Let’s hope our health hangs in there and when it’s gone we can exit peacefully. No curtain calls.


  5. And yet sometimes, Colleen, the simple physical environment you describe is better than what some people face and experience. In their twilight, they have clean, quiet, attentive resources whereas they may not have had these prior to a plain white room. It’s not always a lessening.


  6. Brilliantly written (and observed) Colleen. I felt as if I were standing in that room beside you listening to the gentleman recount his happy days. So beautiful in the moment. Even if we have a hard time increasing physical value time in a life, it would be so cool to have a way that we could enable palliative care patients to go back and relive the happy moments of their lives. Part of that though is really the mindset of the individual. I have had a few interactions with elderly and some are very bitter. May God help me be as happy as your gentleman in my last days.


  7. Sometimes I feel I am there already. It’s not as bad as I imagined. God prepares us as we move through life, I think, for the next step. At least He does me. This, is the greatest comfort of all. Beautifully articulated post, Colleen.


  8. Just being there and listening was wonderful, Colleen. I admire your wishing to go back in time when he was strong and bigger than life. It would have been nice to add to the stories, having witnessed his inner strength and hard work. xo


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