We had to take my mother-in-law’s 22-year-old cat, Sam, to the animal hospital to have her cremated. Our plan had been to bury her in the backyard under a little statue of Saint Francis, but the cold snap made that nigh on impossible. So we took her to the animal hospital where we’d been taking her for years, explaining that we’d been caring for her after my mother-in-law became just too addled by Alzheimer’s to do it herself, and that we’d continued to look after her when my mother-in-law had to move into a memory center. And Sam seemed to know that it was time to check out, and just went to sleep.
I sat in the car and cried. I’ve been doing that a lot over the past couple of years. Crying for my mother-in-law. Crying for my husband. Crying for myself and the gradual, insidious emptiness we’ve been experiencing all this time. And through my tears, I asked Kevin if we could go to Lendy’s.
Lendy’s is a “New York Style Deli & Restaurant” improbably sandwiched into a strip mall of dollar stores and nail salons. We discovered it one weekend, a couple of years ago, when we had a couple of days “off” from caregiving. My God, it’s fantastic. Blintzes and knishes and half-sour pickles and waitresses who’ve been working there since the Reagan administration. After we moved Mom into the memory center, we found ourselves going there after visits to break up the sadness just a little bit. The waitresses all know us, and ask after Mom, even though they’ve never laid eyes on her. Comfort.
And so this is where I needed to go after bringing Sam to the animal hospital. Our favorite waitress was there. I dried my tears and tucked into my breakfast-for-dinner and noticed a very well-dressed woman sitting with her friend in a booth across from ours. She got up, went to the counter where they keep the macaroni salad and corned beef, and yelled into the window for the cook. “I just wanted to say – your food is awesome. This is the first time I’ve been here.” Then she tottered back to the booth on her very nice boots, grabbed her very nice handbag and coat, and left with her friend, after shouting fond farewells to our waitress, like she was an old friend.
Our waitress came over to clear our plates. “That lady there? She just lost her husband. 55 years old. She hadn’t eaten in FIVE DAYS. Her friend made her come here.”
“Wow,” I said. “You know, her friend was right to bring her here. I always come here when I’m sad, and then I feel better.”
“You’re SAD, hon? Why’re ya sad?”
I explained about Sam, and what we had to do, and how we always come here when we’re feeling a bit crushed and like we can’t draw any nourishment elsewhere, like near-dying plants. How the cases full of cream soda and pickles and day-old bagels comfort me, and how I know the waitresses here will take care of me.
She sighed. “To do this job ya gotta be something of a psychologist, I’ll tell ya.”