Thursday, October 06, 2011

Dorothy Says, "Thank You!"

Having finally put the flu behind me, and having finished all that had to be done concerning the passing of My Grandma, I finally had time (and good enough health, myself) to pay a visit to Dorothy.

(For those who have no clue what I'm yammering on about, please see THIS.)

I planned my visit for Tuesday evening. Shortly before the visit, I was serendipitously reminded (thank you, Mimi!) that the date of my visit, October 4th, was the feast day, in the Catholic Church, for Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. Since Dorothy so loves the friendless of the animal world, it seemed a nice coincidence.

[Dorothy, from a couple of years back]

I drove to Milford, where Dorothy is receiving treatment, after work. It is about an hour outside of Boston, perhaps a forty-five minute drive from my place of employment. It is two or three miles from Dorothy's apartment complex and the colony of feral cats she took care of for so many years.

When I arrived at the facility, no one was at the reception desk to point me to Dorothy's room, so I just sort of felt my way along the corridors. It's fairly nice as places of this sort go. Cheerfully appointed, nice dining facilities, no odd smells (as is sometimes the case in lesser homes of the sort, not as well maintained), and every worker I encountered (at least on this evening) seemed to have a smile to offer. Most of the residents are either in wheelchairs or in bed, and I offered a smile to some who looked (and smiled) at me as I walked by. I finally found Dorothy's room, 103, and went inside.

She was asleep.

I didn't know what to do, really. I didn't want to disturb a peaceful nap, but I also didn't want to leave without a visit and some conversation. I stood there a minute, hoping she'd wake up and see me, but no go.

I left the room and went back to the nurses station down the hall. I explained my dilemma to a cheerful nurse. She said, "Oh, don't worry! You can wake her up. I'm sure she'd love to see you! Just give her a little shake."

Having received permission and been absolved of responsibility, I went back to the room and gave a gentle tap to Dorothy's shoulder. She awoke immediately. I asked her if she knew who I was (her vision isn't spectacular, and she had just woken up.) When she said, "No, who is it?", I said, "It's Jimmy Shawn".

("Jimmy Shawn", or just "Shawn", is what my father's side of the family called me for many years. This is because I had a Granduncle Jim, and had [still do] an Uncle Jim, so it avoided confusion in conversations.)

When she realized who it was - or, more likely, when she found out it was anyone she knew, come for a visit, and not necessarily me - her face lit up. She broke out a big smile, and from there it was a non-stop 90-minute conversation without any lulls, gaps, awkward silences, or anything else that would have given a listening stranger the idea that we were in a hospital setting and not just chatting at someone's kitchen table. It was wonderful.


The first thing I noticed was Dorothy's weight. She has never been anything other than petite, but she is now extremely thin. During our conversation, she mentioned that the staff had weighed her recently. They told her she was a few ounces above 80 pounds (that would be about 36 kilo, or a bit less than 6 stone, for her friends in Canada and Europe.) Even at that, I think they may have had a foot on the scale. I would have judged her as weighing less. She stands about five-foot-seven, I believe, so perhaps it is just my perception considering her relatively tall frame.

Having said that, she does not look as ill as one might expect of a person with so little weight. She is bedridden, but appears to move with no pain. There are no tubes in her arms, no IV, no oxygen, nothing taking away from an otherwise nice appearance of a delicately-built older woman sitting up in bed. Here eyes are a bit sunken, due to the lack of weight, and all of her veins can be clearly seen through the thinness of her arms, but her voice is strong, her eyes move quickly, and she is as sharp as she ever was (no small compliment, that, as Dorothy was a schoolteacher, and has always been an erudite woman, quick with her wits, and nobody's fool.)


She appeared to be in no pain, or at least she never gave any indication that she was. For those unfamiliar with Dorothy's many maladies, here's what she has:

Bladder Cancer

Lung Cancer

Breast Cancer


Macular Degeneration

And, from the look of her hands, I'd say she has more than a touch of arthritis, too.

Now, you might expect a person with a laundry list like that to be less than cheerful. I think I might be, given the same. However, Dorothy smiles often, is still intrigued by all that life has to offer, and she does not appear at all ready to toss in her hand. In the great poker game of life, it's obvious at this point that she's holding garbage, but she either still believes she has a winner or she's playing a bluff for all it's worth. Either way, it's to be admired.


Before I talk about anything else, let me tell you how gratified I was upon seeing the many cards, letters, notes, and other wonderful things many of you have sent to Dorothy. It is a thrill for me, personally, that you went out of your way to do so, but the purpose, of course, was to raise Dorothy's spirits. You did that, magnificently.

When I first sat down to talk to her, I saw only a few things on her bedside table. I asked her about them. She said that was just the tip of the iceberg. She told me about how the nurses had come to her one day and, since she had received so much mail, asked her if it was her birthday. Dorothy directed me to open a drawer in another table by her bed. I did so and saw perhaps 30 cards and letters and envelopes, from far-flung places such as the United Kingdom, from good folk in Canada, from 10 or 12 different states... it was just an explosion of colors, heartfelt thoughts, fun stories, many photos and drawings of cats, and all sent with nothing but love as a motive. Since her eyes are not great, the nurses have read her most of the mail, and she says they seem to get a kick out of it.

There were a couple of very lovely prayer books, many scriptural quotations, even some old beautiful prayer cards from unknown funerals (one of which we found more interesting than the others, as it was for a deceased Sullivan, but, after some careful thought and deliberation, we concluded it wasn't one of ours.)

I also noticed a couple of toy stuffed cats. Dorothy was particularly fond of them.

(She said that one of the nurses brought her a couple of real kittens one day, no more than a couple of weeks old, and she let them roam around on her bed for a few minutes. I think that may have delighted her more than anything else.)

Dorothy explained that she had tried to arrange everything on her regular bedside table, but there just wasn't enough room, when meals came or whatever, so that's why she had to keep the overflow in the drawer. And she wanted me to be sure to tell you that she was very grateful for the mail, the gifts, the thoughtfulness of it all. She still isn't exactly sure what a blog is (she asked me again what the term was for what I wrote, and I told her. She laughed, and said she thinks she told the nurses I had a bloogle) but she knows it basically means I communicate with some wonderful souls who know about her, and care, so she has the gist of what's happening and she likes it. That's the important part of it, so who cares if she has the terminology straight?


When Dorothy first came to the facility, she was in the process of being checked in when someone saw her, pointed, and said, "Isn't that The Cat Lady?"

A few minutes later, another person came up to her, and said, "Aren't you The Cat Lady?"

Well, she had been on television, and featured in a couple of newspaper stories, so it wasn't a total shock for her to be recognized. This had happened to her before, but usually in a store or supermarket; mainly when she was doing something that might trigger the thought, such as buying 150 cans of cat food. She wasn't much in the mood for that sort of notoriety as she was being checked into a health care facility, but she took it with good grace and in the spirit intended.

She was given a dual occupancy room, same as she has now, but this first room had her positioned by the window. She says that, every so often, people would come up to the window, tap on it to draw her attention, and wave to her, making it known via signs or whatnot that they knew she was "The Cat Lady" and that they liked her. She knows the folks meant well, but she's a bit happier now that she's away from the window and in another room.

(This reminded her of another story, older in vintage. It seems she was on her way to feed the cats, a few years back, when two boys, perhaps five or six years of age, stopped her and asked if she was The Cat Lady. Dorothy said that she was.

The younger of the boys stared at her for a minute. He then turned to his friend, and said, "You lied! She doesn't look like a cat at all!")


What would Dorothy especially like you to know? That her colony of feral cats is being cared for in her absence. Another loving resident of the apartment complex has taken over the feedings. The colony is, of course, getting smaller, due to the planned capture and spaying of the animals, as well as the placing of found kittens in real homes. Dorothy's great and good work will be completed.


I'll be visiting Dorothy again next week, God willing.

Then, with more better stuff.


Michelle H. said...

It's great to hear that she is in good spirits despite being bedridden. Dorothy has a heart of gold. Must be hereditary.

Jeni said...

Thanks so much for your update here on Dorothy! Really makes me feel good to hear that she's still "kicking" although not near as high as before, obviously, but still with us in that sense. Her attitude, with all she's dealing with, should be something we all could and should strive to develop within ourselves to enable us to then take on and cope with all the little stressors we imagine we have in our lives -and which sure as Hell don't hold a candle to hers. Wouldn't be a bad idea for us to all become copycats, would it?

Craig said...

It warms my heart that someone holding such a hand as that (wonderful turn of phrase), is still cheerful. You seem to come from some particularly noble strain of Irishness. . .

This also reminds me of going to visit my mom; except she isn't so much 'there' anymore. . .

And there was an elderly gentleman who used to live around the corner from us, who kept 30-or-so cats in his house. When he got sick and had to go to the home, his kids just broomed all the cats out the back door, and left them for the neighbors to feed/collect/turn-in-to-Animal-Control. Assholes. . .

Maggie May said...

Thank you for updating us about Dorothy. She looks a lovely lady and I am so pleased she enjoyed the cards and gifts that people sent.
She sounds quite a remarkable lady too and I am pleased all the feral cats that were in her care are now being looked after by someone else.
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Moannie said...

This is a lovely story about a wonderful do seem to have more than your fair share of them in your family, Jim.

Jackie said...

I am so glad to get this update on Ms. Dorothy. Yes, you are and have been surrounded by the kindest ladies in your life....Your Wife, Maybelle, Ms. Dorothy. Continued blessings to Ms. Dorothy. I'm glad to know that someone is helping to take care of "her" cats. I know that puts her mind as ease, too. God bless her....

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

Dorothy's a truly inspirational lady. Despite all that inconveniences her, she's not into herself. She cares about others so much as to not burden them with her challenges.
There is much to be learned here.
Thanks, Jim

Daryl said...

I hope someday to navigate my end with the same class as Dorothy

Anonymous said...

Amen to Daryl! Me too. Me too. What an inspiration. Thank-you Uncle Jim Shawn (or whatever your name is *grin*) for giving us an update.

Buck said...

What Daryl said (me too, in other words).

Thanks for the update, Jim. It's a great good thing to read Dorothy is in good spirits. You've made my day.

messymimi said...

Hugs to you and her.

Mich said...

Glad Dorothy is in good spirits, and sounds like she's doing well. and very glad the kitties are being looked after. :)

And YOU yourself are an incredibly good and decent man, which is a rare thing indeed.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you are back in good health so that you could delight Dorothy with a visit and us with a story.

Nursing home residents can be forgotten by family; I'm glad you were able to share time and love and reminiscence with Dorothy.....and some smiles for the other residents. You did good.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you were finally able to go visit her and it sounds like it was a wonderful one for both of you!! Thanks for sharing and giving me a smile this afternoon!

silly rabbit said...

What a great visit to such a remarkable woman. No wonder you are so fond of her. I agree with everything everyone here has said. Miss Dorothy will remain in my prayers.

lime said...

i'm so glad to know she seems comfortable and in a good place with good people giving her good care. relieved also to know she has the comfort of knowing her cats are still being looked after.. i continue to pray for her comfort and ease and daily encouragement. thanks so much for this update on dorothy.

The Broad said...

You and Dorothy may one feel proud to be a member of the human race ... And all those people who sent cards and best wishes -- they are all enough to help "keep the faith".

i beati said...


Shrinky said...

Gosh, how intrusive, however well meaning, those folk knocking on her "bedroom" window were! Sheesh, that's the LAST thing you need when you are ill, to be on display like a goldfish in a bowl. It warms my heart to visualise Dorothy receiving a sackload of well-wishes from the four corners of the world - what a beautiful thought you had to set it in motion.

I'm glad you are back on your feet and firing on all pistons again, we often take our health for granted until we are deprived of it for a while, don't we? Dorothy, considering all she is dealing with, sounds an utterly amazing lady!

Reasons said...

You have some wonderful women in your life Jim and you certainly appreciate them. Dorothy sounds like a woman of true strength and inspirational spirit . X

Babs said...

What an awesome woman, my heart sunk though at the laundry list of ailments that obviously does not get her down in the presence of others. My dad had bladder cancer so that one really touched close to home. I sit teary eyed at the thought and hate it.
The "homes" are full of people engorged with stories, if we would only turn of the sets and walk in some doors we'd encounter wonderful personalities like Dorothy.
I had to rehab for a knee in a nursing home, what an eye opener and my roommate was 95, she was sparky..
Shame on me for listing you on my bloogle list, (love that)and taking forever to visit. And what a good Suldog for taking the time for Dorothy.

CiCi said...

So glad you were well enough to visit with Dorothy. Sounds like you and she had a great visit.

Clare Dunn said...

Thx for the update, Sul! Love your bloog posts...
xoxoxo, cd

Hilary said...

Somehow I missed your previous entry about Dorothy. I will send her something today. Thank you, Jim for sharing your beautiful family member with us. The Sullivan clan sure has sone wonderful folk. I'm glad she's doing as best she can and that you're on the mend, as well.

Chris said...

Truly inspiring, Jim.

Did the kids' letters get there?

Pearl said...

Touching. Sending her warm thoughts...


Carolina said...

What a lovely lady! And how wonderful that you've asked your bloogle-followers to send her something to brighter up her days. I'm sorry that I've only read this now, but I will send her a card too and hope that it will reach her in time. Which sounds awful, but you know what I mean. Things sent from here to there take a while to get there ;-)

Hope you feel better soon,

Karen said...

Sounds like it was a wonderful visit God bless her - and you!