December 09, 2020
To Mona...Thank you.
When the pandemic hit New York City in March, we were scared for ourselves. But we were terrified for Connie. Connie is our downstairs neighbor. Connie is 84 years old. She lives alone on the first floor of our three-story apartment building in Brooklyn. She has a bad heart, she's very deaf, she struggles with arthritis and she can't take care of herself.
But the hardest thing about Connie is that she's also incredibly, in your face, unpleasant.
I've lived above Connie for 14 years. She doesn't converse, she shouts and screeches at you. She slams everything that is door shaped. She always thinks you're stealing from her. Ever since I've known her, she treats her hospice caretakers workers like garbage. You could hear her curse them out as they left every day.
So they quit on Connie. We didn't blame them. A lot. It was a revolving door of hospice workers. Until Mona.
Mona is a tall, tough Jamaican woman. Her resting face is, “You lying to me, boy?" She has a big laugh which immediately makes you smile. And the most amazing thing about Mona is that she took Connie's abuse and just shook it off.
A Devoted Caregiver
But then COVID-19 hit. The lockdowns started. We hunkered down in our tiny overpriced New York City apartments. In our building, we whispered in our stairwell about what to do about Connie. She was in the highest risk group. We didn't know if we were infected. It was an impossible situation. So my family packaged up food, wiped the containers and brought them to Connie. She shuffled to the door, and thanked us in her brusque way. Connie was scared, too. And the whole building waited all weekend to see if Mona would come back.
If she didn't, we couldn't blame her. To risk her own health for Connie. To never be thanked for her service. To never have her sacrifice acknowledged by the woman she was sacrificing for. Connie was not family. Connie was a charge. A responsibility even her own family didn't want.
But then Mona came back. Stamping her feet in the cold March air, letting out her big laugh, and put the coffee on for Connie. And she kept coming. April came, the worst month in New York, when the hospitals were packed and the ambulance sirens were a constant reminder. And still Mona came. She was a hospice worker. It was her job, sure. But she could have been reassigned to someone more pleasant, more thankful. But Mona stuck with Connie. Because Mona believed in being a caretaker. She believed it was important.
Going Above and Beyond
Connie got sick. We weren't sure what it was. The ambulance came. The EMTs carted her out. Mona grabbed her bag and followed Connie to the hospital. We reached out to Connie's sister, and found out it was Connie's heart. Thankfully, she recovered. We hadn't seen Mona for a week. And then we heard an odd sound downstairs. My wife and I found Mona on her hands and knees (and Mona was not young herself) bleaching the whole apartment.
But she wasn't being paid. She came all the way across Brooklyn out of her own goodness to clean Connie's apartment. Because Mona loved Connie. She was a hospice worker. Care was in her bones. I'll always remember the image of Mona. Unpaid and unthanked. Just willing to serve. Willing to do the most good during a time when a lot of us were busy just taking care of ourselves.
That was the last time I saw Mona. Connie went to an elderly care home. She's doing OK. My little girls send her pictures in the mail. But I wanted to write this as a thank you to Mona wherever she is. She taught me that hospice is love and care.