On their 66th anniversary (last month) she didn't comprehend the word "anniversary" or the reason for the tiny cake my father brought to the rehab unit. She told him to take it with him when he left. But he ate it. Bit by bit. Over 5 days. Two pieces the first day (one for him, one for her). And one on each on the following 4 days. At nearly 93, he thought it was the best cheesecake he'd ever eaten.
She went downhill quickly. Falling and gashing her head at the end of January. A week in the hospital. A few weeks in a rehab center, where they tried to cure a bedsore from vegetating in front of the TV - as her mind had slowly lost its bearings. It was Alzheimer's, but my dad simply could not bring himself to see what his children saw so clearly. Not till after she fell, when it suddenly dawned on him: "We've lost her."
The rehab center was way too chaotic for a person descending into the last stages of Alzheimer's. They were not set up to deal with such persons. Only with persons on the way to getting well. When she was on the way to death and dying.
If only we'd known....
Not till the rehab center, finding her more than they could handle, transferred her to the best psych unit in town, did we get the diagnosis of Alzheimer's. And one week later, the news that she was dying of it. There they calmed her down - in a quiet room - with quiet, carpeted hallways. Told us she needed nursing care. Next thing we knew, it was hospice care she needed.
I cannot begin to tell you of the kindness and consideration and compassion we received in this last place - the home that nursed her into death. She, as a resident, only for 6 days. We as family. They treated her like you'd treat a saint - if you knew a saint was dying. I'm not kidding! And they asked how we were doing too. Brought us snacks and beverages. Gave me sheets to spend the last two nights on a mattress on the floor next to her bed. I got to see the good care, night and day, that she received.
She was incoherent these last of her days. Hardly spoke at the end, except to moan now and then - words we could not comprehend. But she did clearly say things like "dying... good" and "I love" and "I love you" and "I'm sorry" and "bye-bye" and it seemed that the last night she called my name and seemed to try and moan when she heard my voice.
I never thought it would hit me so hard. Hearing that she was dying, as I drove home from a few days of retreat, a respite while my brother was in town. I never thought I would see her turn into a saint, as her body slowly wasted and desiccated, as her mind lost its bearings, while her spirit grew and grew. Till in the end I felt I was communicating soul to soul.
RIP. Born: 4/21/22. Died: 3/23/10
Addendum - via my brother, by Lord Byron:
My task is done -- my song hath ceased -- my theme
Has died into an echo; it is fit
The spell should break of this protracted dream.
The torch shall be extinguished which hath lit
My midnight lamp -- and what is writ, is writ --
Would it were worthier! but I am not now
That which I have been -- and my visions flit
Less palpably before me -- and the glow
Which in my spirit dwelt is fluttering, faint, and low.