I watch him fade. I watch his mind go, and go, and go. I wonder if the next time I see him, the tears will spill over my eyelids. His intellect has gone, his humor is following. I imagine in the end, his kindness will pervade. Ironic, how sometimes what has served us so well in life, has no place at the death bed. His mind could not get him out of this predicament. Actually, it is his mind that has put him in the bed for what will be the last months of his life. Vascular Dementia. His brain failing with each passing day. I watch him fade, as does his devoted wife. Her life on hold while his process rules her days. We speak more simply now and talk about the flowers that are his constant companions and the shiny knobs on the closet door. He knows my face but not my name. And his eyes smile, still. I feel my heart open for him as I watch all normalcy disappear. He no longer bathes or dresses himself and in the near future he will no longer be able to nourish himself. His independence vanished a long time ago and a sweet man named John comes to do for him what he can no longer do for himself.
I am watching him loose his mind. It is truly a first for me. It is surreal. I know that as surely as a child grows into a better understanding of how to navigate in this world with each passing day that this kind and gentle man will loose all of those bearings and become unable to communicate with any meaning. His life is in terminal rewind.
I will stay and watch and try not to ask “why”. I play my part as a watcher and supporter, as a fan of kindness and service. I act as a cheerleader to his loyal and tired wife, and as a champion of those who care for those who can’t care for themselves.
I pray for the strength to see him smiling when he is no longer capable and for the courage to bear witness to the diming of his days.
I found out on my last visit that he was a Dr. Dr. Dr. A Ph.D three times over. And today instead of giving me his regular confused and strained responses, when he did respond, he did so in song. My heart swelled again with affection and admiration for the soul embodied in the failing frame. He has the sweetest face and kindest smile. Day to day he is intermittently disappearing. Losing his education minute to minute. I can see and feel that what remains is his love.
We hold back on his meds in order to keep some semblance of him in our sights. We will lose even this shadow of him soon enough and his wife cries as we near the end.
A second phone call to an estranged daughter with no reconciliation in site. She will not have the pleasure of a goodbye. Who knows if she will cry.
By the time he dies he will not have eaten for 28 days, he will have cried for two days straight. He will have dictated a death note to his friends and family reporting that it was “time for him to go”. Three days before he dies he will pull his wife’s face close to him for the last time and kiss her gently on the mouth. He will die very peacefully at 5:30 in the morning in the bed that was his home for the past 6 months and his face will be frozen in a half smiling state while gazing out of his window.
It is such a strange blessing to be a part of someone’s last days. I can catch just a glimpse of who they are. Just a tiny fleck of their entire life process. Death is a strange business to be in. I fall in love again and again and say goodbye again and again. I am humbled. I am changed. With each death we are changed. Thank you Bobby for changing me and for inspiring me to hold on to that which is precious with all that I am. You have been a good teacher.