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.

No comments: