9.30.2010

The weight of tears

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."
Oh. Well.
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. 
Silence. 

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:

"Thank you."

*****
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. 

Then: 

"The weight of this is too much alone. Thank you for being with me."

26 comments:

jennerilizations said...

wow.

thebossofu.com said...

Beautiful story. I worked in the activities department of an Alzheimer's Center about 10 years ago (that makes me feel really old). It was heartbreaking to see residents confused and angry every day. What was harder? Seeing them have a moment of clarity and realize where they were and what was really going on.
I named my cat after my favorite resident, Edith. She called me Elizabeth, who is her daughter. I'm obviously NOT Elizabeth, but she always only called ME Elizabeth. No one else. That's got to count for something.
It's commendable that you haven't lost your humanity or the ability to emphasize, as so many do. It makes a difference. Mr. C is proof of that, for sure.

Left of Lost said...

@thebossofu- I had a wonderful resident on the end-stage floor who always asked me how my mother was. And then she would call me her daughter's name. I was told I looked like one of her daughters. And just like your situation, she only called ME by that name. So yes, for SURE, that means something. There are still connections working in her brain if she can identify me with the same name every day. Loved her. Miss her so much....it was an internship, and I haven't been back yet to visit. But I should. Before it's too late.
I will never lose my humanity. If I feel it slipping, I will go back and read what I wrote prior, about all of these wonderful people.
Also? I have written other stuff about my experiences at my internship, if you are interested. However, I'm pretty sure it's all under the label 'story time', so you might have to do a little weeding-out.

kris said...

You?

Need to keep asking me to visit.

And you need to get over that thing where you are uncomfortable asking people to visit. Because you all all sparkly magic over here.

This is amazing writing.

An amazing moment of connection.

Sigh.

Love you.

MommyGeekology said...

It's so sad. I don't know if I could do that.

MissCharlie said...

If our society will be judged by how we treated our weakest members, I think you will help tip the scales in our favor. It's just so sad to have a full rich life taken away by a stupid illness.

Kali Capps said...

I'll definitely be weeding very soon!
Also, as I just re-read the comment I left the other day, I noticed that for some reason (and I am searching for a way to blame this on anyone else), the word "emphasize" is placed where the word "empathize" should be. I'm not retarded. Swear. Just distracted.

Left of Lost said...

@Kris-Thank you. You are a kickass writer yourself. :)

@Mommygeekology-Oh, it *is* sad, but there's something so wonderfully right about being around these people as well.

@MissCharlie-I wish so much that more people would care for the weak of our society.

@Kali-Ha! I didn't even notice it!read it as empathize anyway. But if you need to place blame, blame my boxer. He gets blamed for everything in my house anyway. Damn you, MAX! *shakes fist at Max currently sleeping on couch*

moveovermarypoppins said...

my husband and I have both lost beloved family to alzheimer's/dementia, and I just want to thank you for your kindness to this man.

small kindnesses and dignity were sometimes all our loved ones had left.

thank you.

Nicole said...

sigh.
very nice.

Lanita said...

Ditto. Wow.

Left of Lost said...

@moveovermarypoppins-I am so sorry. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you guys. I have a special place in my heart for all of these residents/patients. Whatever world they are in, I want them to enjoy it. (Thanks for stopping by!)
@Nicole-Well, thank you! :)
@Lanita-DITTO! ;)

Renee said...

You are a special person. And a lovely writer.

I'm wiping the tears away.

Nichole said...

My chest is tight and my eyes are brimming.

The compassion and humanity that you showed this man are priceless gifts. To both of you.

You are lovely...and so is your writing.

cathyjoy said...

Kris was so right to bring us to you.

wow.

that is all.

wow.

Left of Lost said...

@Renee-Well, thank you! Thank you for stopping by as well!

@Nichole-Well thank you! You are too kind! I tried to be the best I could, like I would want someone to be to my mother/father/grandparent.

@Cathyjoy- I am so glad Kris sent you guys to me as well! I am so excited to find new blogs. :)

Queen Momma-Sweet Merciful Crap said...

Kris WAS right..

The work you do alone is wonderful, writing about it even more so. You're making people stop and think and feel! Glad I visited ;)

KLZ said...

that's just beautiful. horrifically beautiful.

Missy@Wonder, Friend said...

Wow. I am wordless and humbled.

Just Another Mom of 2 said...

Oh my, this is beautiful. My sister has recently become an RN, after working in an assisted living facility through high school and college. Once she graduated, she became a RN at a skilled nursing facility, and sees death and the like daily. I tear up hearing about some of her experiences, and I know the difference she has made to others- obviously, you get that too.

Such a beautiful post. I found you through Nichole from In these Small Moments. I am certainly a follower now.

JC Little said...

Beautifully written. Knowing that that's where we'll be one day, if we're lucky.

Booyah's Momma said...

I am crying right now as I finish reading this. My grandma is battling the late stages of this right now. I don't visit her as often as I should, because it is so hard for me to see her like that, and not have her recognize me or the kids. I need to get over my own selfishness. I am going to go visit tomorrow.

Thank you for this. Your retelling was beautiful. And the kick in the pants was much needed.

Elisabeth Black said...

This is beautiful. Thank you.

Grace @ Arms Wide Open said...

wow. what an amazing privilege for you to help bear the weight of his burdens in that moment.
simply beautiful.

Melanie said...

Thank you - I'm glad I followed a link to this, though part of me wants to close my office door and let myself have a little cry.

I remember my grandfather searching for his mother, his body and face in his eighties, but his eyes were that of a little, lost, scared child. His confusion, his anger, the moments of lucidity that appeared out of nowhere then slipped away again. The hurt on my Nana's face as another patient said she was his wife, and he nodded and smiled. The hours of staring at nothing, glasses in his hands.

He was gone long before he died.

Heidi - D said...

Amazing post... Thank you. I know you wrote it some time ago and I am a little late to the party, but that is the beauty of words. They ring as true today as they did when you wrote them. Beautiful! Thank you again.