Tuesday, May 19, 2009

RIP Ruth Townley Lawson, Long Branch

For those of you who remember, and have asked about my neighbor Ruth, who I wrote about here, here and here I am sorry to tell you that Ruth has passed away at the age of 85. Her obituary was in the Sunday APP and can be found here.
Ruth Townley Lawson
(Asbury Park Press)

Ruth Townley Lawson, 85, of Long Branch, died Saturday, May 16, 2009, at Sunrise Assisted Living, Wall Township. She was a communicant of St. James' Episcopal Church, Long Branch. Mrs. Lawson was born in Long Branch and lived there all her life.
She was predeceased by her husband, Kenneth K. Lawson; and a son, Robert K. Lawson. Surviving are two sons, Richard T. Lawson, Eatontown, and Keith C. Lawson, Ocean Township; a daughter, Kimberly R. Gibson, Charleston, S.C.; and her grand and great grandchildren.
The visitation will be Tuesday evening from 7 until 8:30 p.m. at the Woolley Funeral Home, 10 Morrell St. at Broadway, Long Branch. The Requiem Mass will be 10 a.m. Wednesday from St. James' Episcopal Church, 300 Broadway, Long Branch. The interment will follow in Woodbine Cemetery, Oceanport. You may light a candle of remembrance by visiting www.woolleyfh.com.

For those wondering, Ruth was moved into the Sunrise Assisted Living Facility in early November of 2008, just days after election day. In fact, to fill in some back story, the last time I saw Ruth was the night of November 5th, 2008. I recall Ruth stopping me on my way out to work early in the morning; she got up early to go vote; problem being, of course, that she was a day late. Not having the heart to explain to her that Obama had already won and it was too late to vote, I suggested that she wait for Joy, the nurse, to take her, hoping Joy could explain.  When I came home for lunch that day, Joy had not arrived, and Ruth was at the bottom of my driveway; she came to ask me for a ride to the polls. I walked her home and explained that she was a bit late to vote. After Ruth berated me for not taking her the day before, I went home to eat my lunch. 

Fast forward a half hour and as I was leaving to go back to work, Ruth was now standing in the middle of the street with her cane and sample ballot, unable to proceed towards my house or back to her house. I walked her home and she again told me that she had to go vote and I promised to take her there, I don't recall ever making such a promise but maybe I should have knocked on her door and asked her if she needed to go vote on Tuesday. Regardless, the information I had passed along just minutes before was long forgotten and I knew it would be a rough day for Ruth.

When I returned home from work around 6:30 that night, November 5th, several Long Branch police cars (a total of 5 if I recall) were idling away gasoline as the officers crowded around Ruth on her front porch. From the looks of the scene, I figured Ruth had either robbed a local bank, been hit by a car or called to report me for not taking her to vote, the nerve I have.  Turns out that another neighbor saw Ruth standing in the middle of the street again and called the police to help her. After about two hours (with all of the police cars still just burning gasoline away on the street), three of the officers left and an ambulance was called. Ruth begged and pleaded with me to not let them take her away to prison, but there was nothing I could do. 

Around 8:30pm, Ruth finally agreed with the officers to go in the ambulance. Being the strong woman that Ruth was, she refused help and walked out of her house, cane in hand, for the last time. Knowing this might be the last time I'd see or hear from Ruth, I gave her something like a hug (was scared I might hurt her if I actually hugged her) and watched helplessly as the police and EMS took her away, for the most past against her will.

While I'm sure that cases like Ruth's are common, I believe that it demonstrates many problems in society worth thinking about. First, Ruth did NOT want to die in a nursing home. Although she couldn't remember the day, date or where she lived, there was one thing that was consistent in her memory and it was that she did not want to go to a nursing home, who really does? Ruth allowed herself to be taken to "prison" that night. She didn't want to go, but was convinced that she had to go because the police was present. The police did nothing wrong, they didn't coax her into going, and they didn't force her to go, and in fairness, based on her condition that day, she needed some form of help, but in my opinion she needed the help of her family and friends, not the police or a doctor. Her family never showed up, despite several calls from the police department to the home and cell phones of her children. If nothing else, I find it sad that Ruth could not die peacefully in her own home. In her mind, she was indeed kidnapped and taken away to prison even though she did nothing wrong. I do hope that someday, I'll be able to die peacefully in my own home or at least be able to accept, or deny, healthcare as my wishes are at the time. I hope that I am never forced to accept care I do not want although the story of a child with cancer who is being ordered to accept medical care he doesn't want makes me think that someday, I too will be taken away from my own home to be "cared for" by someone else. Scary.

Anyhow, for over two hours, the police patiently waited for her family, who lives no more than minutes way, to arrive to help her, they never showed. In contrast, as I washed my cars in my driveway early Sunday morning, I watched as her two sons finally stopped by her house, mowed her lawn, trimmed the shrubs, threw out some junk and cleaned the place up. I'm sure their mother, Ruth, would have liked to see such actions by her children while she was alive - but in the years I've lived in my house, I never once saw her children spend so much time in that house, it never stopped Ruth from telling me about her children, she always loved them and she sat on her porch everyday waiting for them to come home, as if her children didn't have children of their own and were still young school children. Again, if there is one thing I can hope for, it is that when I'm old, or otherwise unable to care for myself, my family will be there to care for me, stop in every once in a while for a coffee and cake, ensure that I have some food in the fridge and maybe a clean and working toilet, if I can still use one at that point. While I understand that, especially in these tough economic times, we all have our own lives to worry about, I still want to believe that family comes first and humans should be caring for other humans, family, friends, neighbors or even the stranger whose car is broken down on the side of the road. Most of us have no trouble complaining about taxes, but then so many of us expect the government our taxes pay for to provide everything for us. The police to care for our elderly parents, or the broken down car on the road; Social services to check in on mom. It's quite sad in my opinion.

In any case, RIP Ruth Lawson, you were a great neighbor and a friend and I'm sure your mother is happy to finally have you "home".

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