Mimi’s lesson in loving

Thirty-four years ago, when we were first married and still attending college, the Preacher and I worked as care-aides in a Winnipeg nursing home. Among the residents was a sparrow of a woman named Mimi. Osteoporotic, her brain clouded with dementia, she’d nevertheless captured the hearts of the entire staff.

Mimi stood about four feet tall. Like I said, a sparrow. When I first worked with her, she had free run of the home. Her fine paper-white hair swept into a beribboned ponytail, she popped in and out of other patients’ rooms, stealing teeth and bibs, and visiting as though with family.

She praised each made bed, and chided at each mussy one. She wandered into the kitchen, raising pot lids and stirring things, adding any spices she thought necessary, to the cooks’ amusement. Occasionally the Preacher had to pick her up and put her back where she belonged. She laughed, then. Giggled like a girl.

Mimi frequently visited Bob Cord, the man in the room nearest the nurses’ station. Sometimes she even crawled into bed with him—an uncomfortable squeeze at best. The crusty old Irishman protested so loudly we heard him in the south end of the south wing.  “SOMEONE GET THIS —— WOMAN OUT’A HERE!”

The Preacher had the ill fortune of having to fetch her from there once. She fought him all the way, weeping and beating on his arm. “That’s my husband. He needs me. Take me back to my Jim!” I never saw her angry except then.

On a good day, Mimi swaddled the place with cheer. Charmed us all with her insatiable curiosity and concern for anyone in sight. She couldn’t think much past that.

But only Mimi’s recent memory had fled. She remembered the long-ago past with remarkable clarity; her years as a young bride, a young mother, a farm wife. In those days, Mimi dwelt. And though it flew in the face of our reality orientation training, we left her there most of the time. Her mind had returned her to the years and people she loved best. What right had we to displace her heart?

Mimi’s pillow was almost as large as she was, but one night, as I helped her into bed, she asked for a second one. She’d never done that before. “We’re short on pillows, love,” I told her. Her face fell.  But I was curious. “Why do you want another pillow, Mimi?”

She seemed surprised, but her face lit up. “Why, for Jim! He works so hard in the fields.” Suddenly, she sat up, placed her own pillow on one side of the bed, and scooted over far to the other side, against the bars. “It’s okay,” she said, laying her head down on the sheet. “He can have mine.”

Mimi ‘s beyond-death-and-dementia kind of love still challenges me in the Christ-mandated, putting-another’s-needs-first department. Even after decades of my own marriage, I have far to go, most days.

Happy Anniversary, Hon. You get the pillow tonight.