My wife, still summering in Michigan, was on her way to her brother’s birthday weekend when they got the call that their sister Pammie was rushed to the hospital. Pammie was the youngest of the four children and when they found out after a year or two that she was what we now call a “Special Needs” child, they sent her to an institution in Kansas. She eventually learned to dress herself, do simple puzzles, enjoy children’s movies, but language was extremely limited. I know of three other families that had similar children with the same choice to make and they all chose to keep the child in the family. But I understand that this was the 50’s and two of those other families are in Spain where the strong family structure helps support such a choice.
I’m not sure exactly when, but Pammie eventually came to Ann Arbor and lived in a house with other people like her and professional caretakers. The parents would come visit or bring her to their home on a regular basis and do puzzles with her, go out to restaurants or serve meals in the home, occasionally go to a movie. Whenever my wife Karen visited her folks, she always included such a visit with Pammie. If I was with her, I’d go as well and so over the years, maybe had 20 or 25 visits with my sister-in-law.
Though Pammie had been to the hospital many times over the years, this one was severe, beginning with choking and stopping breathing until CPR revived her. But by this time, there was brain damage and other severe consequences. I talked with Karen this afternoon and she and her brothers were on the way to visit Pammie again (they had already had one visit to the hospital). One hour later, I got the news that Pammie had died.
Of course, by this time, this was what they were expecting and they were understandably philosophical about her quality of life and resigned to bidding her goodbye. But still to get the news brings a finality to it all that is always hard to wholly accept and deserves some thought, some tears, some sense of pause in the business of life to be with the feelings. Over the years of Christmas shopping, Karen always had “puzzle for Pammie” on the list and now that will be no more.
For now, just these words to mark the moment and send Pammie off to the other world with a reminder that her sibings loved her and the thought that perhaps her parents are awaiting her in one form or another. R.I.P. to Pamela Shultz.