Friday, June 24, 2016

circles and closure

A year ago today a nice lady died in the place where I work. It was really really hard. Hard on the caregivers, hard on her family, but hardest of all on her and her husband. He came almost every day. He loved her so much. She was beautiful and had beautiful daughters for whom beauty was a strongly held value. Or obsession. Its pretty hard to die of dementia, and they all do, and it is never, ever pretty. This part was hard for the daughters, that death took beauty. All of it. That death kicked beauty's ass. So they were mad at how things went, that we couldn't fix her hair and dress her in pink cashmere sweaters. Her husband, he just came, and stayed. Bedside. We talked a lot. I was with him all through the long walk. Every day. He'd ask me why we couldn't make it better. I'd shrug. I don't know. We just sometimes have to sit it out, and it takes forever and then its over and it seems like it went so fast and what he'd give for one more crappy day. "No not really," he'd say. "I wouldn't wish it on anybody." Then she died. Finally. And they left without saying goodbye. And that is where my story begins.

Her husband came by today and asked to speak to me. I was shocked. Hadn't seen him or anyone for a year. He said, "I had to do this." I nodded. Wasn't quite sure what he meant. "Its today. A year." Ah. I got it. She'd been gone a year today. He wanted closure. He hugged me. I said, "You have no idea how often I think of you." He talked about his girls still not being okay. Still mad. Again, I shrugged. "Their deal," I said. "Takes time."

So we chatted and I couldn't help thinking there was more. He finally sat up in his chair and said, "I have someone in my life. And you know her." I couldn't imagine who. Finally he told me. She is a wonderful woman who's husband also died of Alzheimer's with me, and they'd been in a support group together for a long time. "She's amazing!" he said. "I've never been so happy!" He told me they'd been on trips together and that they can talk about their spouses any time. That's how they know each other. They have that common tragic link. His daughters don't like it. They're afraid he'll forget their mother. "They lost their mother a year ago," I told him. "Your wife's been gone twenty years."

He said he thought he'd never live again. That he'd accepted his fate and his beloved would die a slow awful death and so would he -- with her. And he had. Almost.

So I asked if he wanted to walk through memory care again. He did. We entered the code that keeps my fragile little people safe, and stepped across the threshold, that thin line separating us and them. We walked around and he was looking for familiar faces, but they were all gone. All in heaven. And we made it to her old apartment, the tiny space where all of the terrible intimacy happened, where she beat the shit out of caregivers and screamed through hallucinations too horrible to describe. He read the name of the person who is living there now: Betty Davis. We both laughed. He said he'd become good friends with four of the people from the support group, but now when they get together every month, it isn't support group, its Happy Hour.

It meant so much that he stopped by. As professionals, we grieve differently, separately. If the family steps away and chooses to leave that part of life behind them, we don't go chasing after them, asking for closure, expressing our needs. We just don't. Occasionally, we get a second chance to say thank you. For entrusting your beloved to our care. For allowing us to share the journey. We never know where it will lead.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

clamfest 2016

Another day in Venice. You remember Venice, right? That precious little scrap of asphalt on the north end of Seaside, where the habitually retired arrive in rusted rolling cartons slung low with a lifetime of decisions, black plastic bags and colorful bins stuffed with life's leftovers. These men slip into Venice on thin rubber tires that go flat in a week with an exhausted pffffftttt, and stay for the rest of their lives. They pay by the week because hope says so. Because their ship will come in. Because they'll quit drinking. Because they just need time to change what they have spent a lifetime creating.

But we fit in, we civilized three (Nicole came along). We the rich, the vintage-trailer-by-choice crew. Now, we are not so shiny that they rob us, but they do wonder why we stay with them, using their showers that have used syringes and satin panties in the trash on the men's side, when we could stay at Circle Creek, or in upper-crusty Cannon Beach. We can't explain. It would take too long and nobody would listen.

I couldn't tell them about Bolder City with its ancient trailers like long rows of oxidized pink Pontiacs with bullet tail-lights, about how me and Lorretta sat in our 105 degree trailers all day waiting for Luke to rape Laura, and when General Hospital was over, bursting from our aluminum doors like steam from a kettle, running down the gravel driveway, across the road and into the river that had been there all along, all through days and days, the sweet green river, all the time wondering what our penance would be for trading our summer for the price of a soap opera.

At night, when the mosquitoes have calmed and there is no more color in the evening sky, I'd sing my son to sleep:

The owls and the crickets are singing together
The clouds have just taken the moon for a ride.
The last rain of summer is bending the heather
And soft as a feather I hear it outside.

Hush now, you hoot owls, and crickets be wary
The morning is hiding behind the next cloud.
Let the sounds of the evening be pleasant and airy
Let nothing be scary, let nothing be loud.

Goodnight Sweet Prince.

One of the perma-campers was John Quincy Adams from Pennsylvania. His story is that he came out here to help his daughter and she wasn't all that interested in help. So he pulled in, parked it, and a wind came up and plucked the lid right off his motorhome. This was on TV. Kurt saw it. One of the crackheads helped JQ pull a huge blue tarp over it. This made it dark inside the motorhome. JQ didn't complain, but anyway, the crackhead went ahead and cut squares out of the tarp so he could still have windows. There is a tiny chance that his handiwork may have compromised the integrity of the tarp, . So that's something, but it did lend a homespun ambience to his site which is consistent with the rest of the park. JQ wanted to go clamming with us, but his knees wouldn't stand the walk out to the water.

Speaking of homespun, a local artist painted each hook up (a 3x2x4 foot cement block) baby blue with scenes from "Finding Nemo." Ours was a dancing swordfish. Next to us was Nemo himself. On a few unfortunate blocks, the artist had taken a stab at original work: mermaids with lumpy tits, wide eyes, and yellow hair that was probably supposed to look like it was waving around under water, but in fact, looked like it was painted with a broom.

 So we got our clams, 130 over 3 days. Nicole provided a third limit. Kurt only took an extra 15, which, for him, was quite restrained. We clammed early, cleaned them methodically, and walked to see the sunset from our perch not 100 yards away. We made our way to Gearhardt for a milkshake and found Corinthian chimes at a swanky garden shop. I'll let you know if they arrive as a birthday gift...

A downside of this trip was how much stuff I forgot: Towels, coffee cups, eggs. I mean, things you can't live without very nicely. A trip into the Astoria Goodwill fixed us up. I found the best towels -- which will live in the house -- not the trailer. This is the problem. I'm not insane. I don't have Alzheimer's Disease -- not that I'd know if I did --  but when you have a trailer, you keep it stocked with shit. I hadn't used the thing for a year and forgot I'd taken in all of the cloth items to wash. I never brought them back to the trailer.

Now we are home. I am exhausted by what is now my job's focus: the arsonist. I can't remember what I've said, but a disgruntled employee went postal and tried to burn down the Assisted Living facility I operate. She is finally in jail. I keep my office blinds closed in the event her husband is sitting in the weeds across from the parking lot with a scope.