Stephen King's celebrated chapter books The Green Mile, tell the story of John Coffey's last days on Death Row and Paul Edgecomb, the corrections officer. Edgecomb walks with Coffey down the green mile and stands witness to his execution.
That is as best a description as I can give to the death sentence that my mother in law experienced as she walked down the corridor of the retirement community we recently visited. Her feet became firmly planted at the door as we looked at an alcove apartment. Crossing the threshold was like taking the first step, placing one foot in the grave.
I watched her face go ashen as she looked around.
"It's fine," she mumbled. And headed back to the door as fast as the walker would move.
The Marketing Director smiled.
"We get this all the time," she said comfortingly.
We walked a little further down the hall to the apartment of a friend of hers who also lives in the building. But her pace slowed with every step. The friends embraced each other and sat at the table to chat while I went to look at other apartment options.
We spent a nice afternoon, having lunch, chatting about the changes that life had brought to both of them. We promised to visit again when my mother in law felt better. For the next couple of hours, she grieved.
We talked about wild alternatives that were no more realistic than turning back the hands of time. But talking in circles always brings you back to the same place. A place, like the green mile, with a one way door. These conversations are so difficult. You are torn between wanting the very best for your loved ones and listening to their pleas to stay put. It is important to listen, talk, listen and talk some more.
Somehow it was easier when my father in law had to be moved. He suffered from Alzheimer's for 10 years and finally we were no longer able to care for him. He didn't know us and little of anything else by the time we made the decision. But with my mother in law, it is the opposite. Her mind is sharp but her body is failing. We want her to have a choice despite her insistence that she wants nothing to do with it and wants us to just make the decision.
This Green Mile is yet another challenging course along the journey of life. I wish we could change it or somehow fast forward a few months, jumping ahead of the entire mile. Everyone, including her friend, assures us that she will wonder why she didn't do it sooner. That's the door I want her to walk through. Until then we hold hands and walk one step at a time.
Are you walking the mile with your loved one?
Images: Flickr image by ^riza^