I had the distinct honor and privilege of calling little Angelina my friend. Angelina came to me through the Palliative Care Grant Program, and she was supposed to have been a heart transplant recipient. Before I entered her life, she’d had 5 major heart surgeries and a stroke, which left her unable to use one side of her body. Angelina’s life centered around hospitals and medicine. Angelina was five years old when she passed.
Tea with Angelina
Angelina had a three-year-old brother, Sam, and a twelve-year-old brother, Mike. Each time I visited, Angelina always made sure to include Sam in our puppet shows. She decided that at each puppet show one of the puppets would have a birthday, and Angelina was in charge of which puppet it would be. And our celebration began. When all the puppets were out of their baskets, she proceeded to go through the motions and sounds of them as though they were opening gifts. Angelina would say, “Oh, look little bunny, you got a book, or a doll, a puzzle, etc.”… The puppets took turns singing and dancing. We followed with a tea party. Angelina pretended to butter their bread, she poured tea (water), and she would wash the cups and dishes with one hand biting the “bad” arm (as she referred to it), that flailed uncontrollably. She never let this interrupt ‘her show.’ We read books with the puppets, and Angelina would make up the words pretending to know how to read. She was quite the storyteller with an extraordinary imagination. Sometimes we’d go outdoors and blow bubbles with the puppets.
At times she was physically ill and I would gently tell her, through the puppets, that sometimes they got sick to their stomachs as well, and if she needed her medicine to feel better, they would take their medicine, too.On a couple of occasions, she leaned into the puppets and whispered, “Sometimes I scream.” The puppet responded, “Sometimes I scream, too, and that’s ok.” On another occasion, she turned to one of them with her head down and said, “It’s not fair.” The puppet remained quiet This was a time where there was no need for words.
When I began visiting, Angelina’s older brother, Mike, was quiet and observant, but as we became acquainted he began ‘helping’ us do our shows, talking to the puppets, laughing as he joined in, and ultimately said what he hadn’t been able to say to his sister. “I wish I could do something.” The puppets’ response simply was, “You are doing something – you’re making Angelina happy by being such a good brother to her.”
For 3-year-old Sam, the puppets appeared to be a breath of fresh air. He became involved. Hearing him laugh and sing and use silly voices was the best medicine for Angelina.
Toward the end, when Angelina could no longer use her hands, I brought in finger puppets. I placed them on her fingers and she carried on. She continued to have control at a time when her world was spinning out of control. The last time I visited Angelina she had called me on the phone. She asked, “Es, you comin’ over with our puppets?” I said I was on my way. She responded, “I love you.” I softly answered back, “I love you too, sweet friendl.”
When I arrived, she had been physically ill, but that did not stop her from ‘her show.’ Though she now had a feeding tube, she insisted the puppets have a tea party. She pretended to eat her make-believe bread and butter, but could only put it on her mouth as she went through the motions of eating. Along with Sam, we “cheered” with our tea cups. I carried her outside and we sat on the steps and blew bubbles. We laughed as we pretended that this was just another ordinary day. Except, I’m certain my little friend knew it wasn’t. Later that evening, Angelina was rushed to the hospital. She passed away before she arrived.
One week later, I visited Sam. He asked me if we could have a puppet show and a tea party. We did and, as we poured our make-believe tea, he clicked his cup to mine and said, “Cheers … to Angelina.” Angelina’s Mom, Gramma and Mike were in the room. And in my heart I knew, Angelina was there, too.