I’ve just returned from a very special Florida, again: land of sunshine and golf, visiting grandkids and early bird specials, housing bargains and the beginning of a real estate comeback (maybe). But it’s also the land of aging and loss, walkers and dementia, loneliness and fake smiles.
And so I’ve been thinking a lot, these last days, about the nature of aging and dying. Which has me thinking about aging and dying well. Which has me thinking about living well, which of course leads to thinking about what it is that matters: health and loving. And after this weekend, I’d venture to say the old saw about “if you have your health, you have everything” doesn’t quite get it right. If you don’t have your loving, you may not have nearly enough, certainly not all you need.
True story, real details:
His second wife, her second husband. Love of her life, found late in life. They were inseparable, doting on one another, grateful for their good fortune, taking nothing for granted. Their relationship was the envy of the entire community: so giving, so intimate, so full of laughter and life. Her dementia only strengthened his resolve to care for her with gentle patience. Her last days should be as joyous and comfortable as possible.
But he died first, a sudden, unexpected passing. And she sits now, melancholy and confused, always on the verge of tears, asking where he is, over and over and over again. Her caregivers urge her to smile. Her neighbors avoid her. Her friends try to distract her.
I don’t know what possessed me. I hardly know the woman. A distant acquaintance, she probably never knew my name. But as we looked at one another across the crowded lunch table, I blew a kiss and she caught it, held it to her cheek, all the while looking me in the eye. I felt more connected, more alive, more spoken to than I could have imagined. So again, I blew a kiss, touched my heart, crooked my finger hello. And her red eyes crinkled just the tiniest bit as she looked at me and softened.
Lunch ended. We went our separate ways. Like I said, we don’t really know one another. But we were both waiting for cars and she was standing alone, safe enough, but alone and looking anxious and confused. I asked her if I could give her a hug and kiss goodbye. Big smile, such a deep sigh, breathing into it. Is that all it takes? A touch you really feel, a hug you sink into?
The hug we shared as I stroked her head and whispered in her ear, each of us weeping oh so imperceptibly, was one of the most connected moments I’ve ever felt. I don’t know what possessed me to tell her, “It will be ok. We will be ok.” She: “I will? But where will I find you?” (This is dementia? The words may not be right. The memory’s off. The balance and the swallowing don’t work properly. But the emotion sensor is still strong and true underneath it all). “In your heart,” I said.
But she couldn’t remember where or what her heart is, and she started to get anxious again. So I took a picture of the two of us hugging and kissing to send her, so she will see me and know she is not alone. Or maybe so I will.
Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.