*Name changed to protect identity.
A few years ago I was on hospice, not because of the amputation but some other health issues. (Obviously, I became well enough to get off hospice.)
One day my middle great-niece was visiting when the hospice nurse was here visiting. Of course, as part of her visit she had to examine my legs because of the severe lymphedema. It was the first time that one of my “Greats” had seen my amputated leg.
Aly knew I used a wheelchair, didn’t get to go many places, and obviously knew I didn’t have but one foot. Aly was around five-years-old at this time. But seeing that the leg was missing from just above the knee down was a shock for her.
“Aunt Donna! Who stole your leg?” Her eyes were wide open and her mouth formed a big “O”.
“No one stole it Honey. The doctors had to cut it off so I wouldn’t be as sick anymore.” I answered, hoping she’d be satisfied with the answer.
“But you’re still sick.” Aly replied. Then she looked at my nurse and with the suspicious voice only a five-year-old can have asked, “Did you cut off her leg?”
The hospice nurse assured her she didn’t. “Oh, no, I’m not that kind of nurse.”
So Aly began looking around my bedroom in search of the leg. She peered under the bed, went through boxes on the shelves and then spied the closet. “It’s in the closet! You hung it up on a hanger.”
Inside I was a mix of laughter, awe and wondering how I explained where my left leg was now. “No Aly, it’s not in the closet.”
She looked anyway, a determined expression on her face. Followed by a look of disappointment. “Aunt Donna, where’s your leg?”
Trying to use words and concepts that a young child Aly’s age would understand I told her. “When people have to have legs amputated, cut off, the hospital takes care of the leg. Sometimes they send it to special schools for doctors to learn from.”
“Let’s go get it back. You need that leg Aunt Donna.”
I looked to my hospice nurse hoping she would give me a hint as to how to explain that my leg was most likely cremated. But she gave me a look back that said, “Nope, not me. I’m not getting involved any more.”
“Aly, most likely my leg was…” I couldn’t say thrown away, or she’d have the image of my leg in a trash can somewhere. I couldn’t say cremated because I’d have to explain what cremation was so I was braced myself for the truth on her level of understanding. “Most likely Aunt Donna’s leg was burned up and the ashes were carefully thrown away.”
She was quiet for a moment or so then came over and patted my amputation. Playtime called and Aly went off to find her cousin.
For months afterward when Aly would see me she’d ask where my leg was again and I’d explain. Then eventually she seemed to truly understand.
From a five-year-old I received one of the sweetest gifts. Aly was genuinely concerned and brought with that determination and empathy. I will forever hold this memory of my heart. Aly zooming from one “hiding place” to another trying to find my missing leg. Then her need to have the answers repeated until she had settled things in her mind.
There was no judgment, no assumptions just lots of love. Perfect.
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