I interrupted his physical therapy session with a light touch to his shoulder.
"How are you doing today, Mr. C?"
He turns in his wheelchair, peering up into my face.
There are tears streaming down his weathered face, filling the creases, dripping down into his lap, where his large unused hands lie.
"Well, I think I have been better, although this lady," nodding his head towards the physical therapist standing in front of his wheelchair, "seems to think I am improving in some way."
I respond, "Well that's wonderful! Can you show me your progress?"
His answer, "I am fairly certain she is full of shit."
But. He looks back at the PT and smiles, following her lead. He reaches for the bar on the wall, and slowly eases himself out of the wheelchair, onto his slippered feet. He takes one hand, then the other, off of the bar. And balances himself. And stands.
He turns to face me again, this time looking down towards me, now that he is standing as tall as he can. There are still tears.
I smile, I speak words of encouragement and praise, and then I watch his smile falter to the point of falling.
As he lowers himself back into the wheelchair, I sink down to the floor, squatting next to him. The PT leaves us to ourselves at the end of the hallway. He has recently moved to this floor, the end-stage Alzheimer's & dementia floor.He is skin and bones, covered in tattoos from his time in the military. He is wearing his beret over his thin white hair, sticking out in tufts.
"Mr. C, is there something I can help you with today? Something I can do or say? Are you feeling okay?"
He sits in silence and smiles this pained knowing smile. He shakes his head. His nose is running.
He begins this story. He is looking for the picture of his mother. It is the only one he has left. Since he moved here, he cannot find it. He then begins to talk about how he cannot find his wife, and he is just as worried about her as he is about the missing picture of his mother. He was in her "house" this morning, and "I pray to God that she is okay" because "she has been through so much" and "I know her parents, and they would be so disappointed to hear that she did it again". I am getting confused, but I am nodding, and I reach for one of his hands. It is cold so I begin to gently rub it, transferring some of my warmth.
He watches my hands on his. I watch his face, searching for answers to questions I don't even know to ask. I open my mouth to say...something.....and clamp it closed again when he looks me in the eyes. He puts his free hand on my arm, slides it up slowly, maintaining eye contact. His hand reaches my shoulder; it is cold. It slides up my neck, around my jaw, to my cheek. He pats my cheek, maintaining eye contact. Crying.
"There is nothing you can do. It is okay. There is nothing."
His hand sits on my cheek. We sit in silence for a few minutes. I feel my eyes well up, my face is screaming from the smiling, his hand is growing warm. I want to look away, but know that I must not.
He nods again, and drops his hand.
I stop rubbing his other hand.
He asks me to take him home, so I wheel him to his room, right behind us. On his bed, there are two pictures: one of his mother, and another of his wife. His face lights up when he sees them. I help him to sit on his bed, and tell him I will come visit with him again later. He is caressing the pictures, crying still, when I walk out of his room.
I am standing in the hallway where he cannot see me, thinking about this encounter, trying to control these emotions that probably have nothing to do with him. He calls out to me:
I find out later that he was in his wife's room before I visited with him (who is also in the end stages of Alzheimer's and pretty much sleeps non-stop) when she had a seizure. We aren't even sure that he is always aware that it is his wife, but he was very upset by the seizure. It seems that I found him in a pretty lucid state after that incident.
I find him later in the afternoon, sitting in front of a window staring at nothing, tissues in one hand and the picture of his mother in the other. I kneel down, and focus my eyes in the direction of the window, and comment on the beautiful view. He places his hand on my arm, and tells me "All we can do is pray to God. All we can do is be thankful for His blessings." I agree with him. He opens his mouth, shakes his head as though he has rethought his comment, and says nothing.
"The weight of this is too much alone. Thank you for being with me."