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Be a dear and push me into traffic, would you?

Gwen was 97 years old and I was 18 when she hired me to be her companion. She was tired of staring at the walls in her luxury retirement suite, and didn’t find the company of her peers all that engaging — nor did she find her family particularly caring. In fact, more than once when I came to visit, Gwen had just called the “will people” again. Another one of her children had pissed her off, and she had written them out. “They’re all just waiting for me to die,” she’d say. “They’re not getting my money!”  

From re-writing her will weekly, to posting her own job ad in the local paper, Gwen was a real free spirit in every way. One day I showed up to meet her and found she wasn’t there. Apparently, Gwen had been fed up with the nursing staff and had called 911, gotten into her wheelchair, and wheeled herself into the lobby to wait for the ambulance there. I have chuckled out loud imagining Gwen ready-to-go, the paramedics showing up, and the nursing staff having no idea why.

I admired Gwen and her endless energy to advocate for herself. She never hesitated to take matters into her own hands. I was surprised one weekend at home when my sister handed me the phone with a confused look. Gwen was whispering on the other end of the line, “I’m bunged right up dear, and these people won’t help me. Would you get me a laxative? And fast!” 

The nursing staff scolded me when they found out about the secret weekend delivery I’d made. They told me about the potentially negative effects of drug interactions and that “she can’t just take whatever she wants.”  Meanwhile, they had no idea that she was treating her painful gout with a single glass of champagne each night, which she had kept secretly chilling in her personal fridge. 

I never had any qualms about aligning my actions with the requests of this 97 year old woman. Time was of the essence and she wanted immediate relief — if it killed her or not! At 97, I think she’d weighed her odds and come to terms with making life and death decisions.

After going on walks, chatting, or making weekend deliveries, Gwen would pay me in cash. I think I earned $20/hour, which was a lot then (and still is!), especially for companionship with such an entertaining woman!

When it came time to pay me, she once asked me to get the money from the secret drawer in her bureau. Although she was pointing and verbalizing where it was, I couldn’t see it and honestly wondered if she’d lost it (her mind, not the money). But, she was determined to have me find the secret drawer full of cash, and when I finally did, I instantly felt like someone should be in the room with us to witness that I wasn’t ripping her off. She told me she had to hide it so her family couldn’t get their hands on it.

Can you imagine waiting for your wealthy mother to die…counting on that inheritance to pay for XYZ…Assuming it would be any day now, until one day you realize you’re in your mid 70’s and the old coot is still guarding her fortune out of spite. How amazing. Her family really seemed like a bunch of assholes. I met them when I brought her to a family get-together. I’m sure they didn’t understand why I was with her, and that made me root for Gwen even more. 

On our last day together before I went off to school, we went for a stroll. I was pushing her up a sidewalk in her wheelchair, a busy road beside us. Although I was sweating, I was enjoying the fact that we had broken her out of the retirement home and were taking a last walk together on this sunny August day. As we got to the top of the hill, Gwen motioned with an almost transparent finger for me to come close. She needed to tell me something. So I bent down, my ear close to her mouth, and I heard her say,

“Be a dear and push me into traffic, would you?” 

Without thinking, and with lots of love, I pushed Gwen into the oncoming traffic and watched briefly as she tumbled down the hill like a pinball between cars. I turned my back on the chaos and walked calmly back to the retirement home and back into her room. I opened the secret bureau drawer, gathered the cash, and went off to university the next day.

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