Death and New Life

“Look, honey! The Gorilla has gray hair so he must be old like Nana!” a very old woman said to a kid I assumed was her grandchild while pointing to her hair. The woman looked like she was a hundred years old.

As an amateur expert on the Western Lowland Gorilla, I stand in front of their habitat at the Dallas zoo and speak to zoo guests about them. “He’s actually not old,” I said, “he’s 13 which is about 18, 19 in human years. And, he’s not gray he’s silver. He’s a silverback gorilla which means a mature adult. But he’s a young adult.” Nana wasn’t looking at me or hearing me and just kept saying to her grandchild how old this gorilla must be.

“Nana!” a woman of about 38 asserted. “She’s saying he’s not old, you’re not listening to her.” I realized that this was her grandchild and the young one was her great grandchild. “Nana, listen to what the woman is saying!”

Nana looked at me and narrowed her eyes as if trying to focus. “He’s not old?” she asked suspiciously.

“No,” I said, “just silver from maturity.” Nana went on to ask me several questions and as other people gathered around to see the magnificent silverback, Juba, I noticed her flowy shirt had been accidently tucked into her underwear which were showing well above the top of her pants on one side. I was the one to run to the front of the class in junior high to tell the teacher his fly was down before he got eaten alive by a bunch of hormone raging maniacs and I wasn’t going to let Nana continue walking around the zoo like this. I simply reached forward, grabbed her shirt and tugged upward. She realized what was happening, never took her eyes off Juba while she reached back and completed the task. We never said a word about it.

“Where are the chimpanzees?” she finally asked excitedly. I told her how to get to them and told her to look for our one year old baby chimp.

“A baby? Yipeeee!” she exclaimed as she staggered away. “I gotta go find my kids!” Oddly, the granddaughter with the child in the stroller had moved on and left this incredibly old lady by herself. It didn’t seem to bother Nana but it bothered me. This woman wasn’t moving well.

An hour or two later I was leaving the gorilla research station when suddenly Nana appeared. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to drive you crazy with so many questions today,” she said. “But, where are the elephants?” She was alone again.

“I will walk you to the elephants, Nana,” she seemed unstable and it was hot. “Now, up ahead do you want to take the stairs or the stroller ramp?” I asked.

“I know, I look drunk!” she exclaimed with a laugh, “I’ll take the stroller ramp.”

“You don’t look drunk, you just look kinda old,” I said.

“Kinda old,” she giggled under her breath. “I’m on morphine,” she said, “I have cancer.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “Wow, morphine, are you dying?”

“Yes,” she said as she hung onto the railing teetering as she walked, “but it’s fine. I’m 85, I smoked from the time I was 16 until I was 66! I should have gotten cancer when I was 21!” she exclaimed as she gave me a friendly slap on the shoulder. “Oh, I see the kids! I’ll just catch up with them. Thank you for your help.”

“Nana,” I said, “just past the elephants are the giraffes and there are two babies in there.”

Two babies! Yipeeeee!” she said as she waved her arms.

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15 thoughts on “Death and New Life

  1. Anonymous

    Wonderful. Thanks for sharing. As a hospice RN, reading your story brought a tear to my eye. But I love how you cared and spoke to her so openly. She will remember you until her last breath, even through the Morphine fog. 😘

    Liked by 1 person

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