Losing Her Life

I sat with her today for a very long time.  We had to take a scary ride together.  Scary for her.  No less difficult for me.   I had to tell her what was going on in her life, her life that she is slowly losing control of.  I had to explain it to her again.  Again.  And many more times yet.  She told me stories about her life.  Stories I knew.  But each time she told me I listened, intently, to hear about the child she was.  The young bride she became.  The faith she relied on.  And when she told me this again, and yet again, I smiled and encouraged her to tell me more.

I had to leave her to get and share some information with medical staff.

I came back to her and sat on the stool by her bed.   I smiled at her and she smiled back.  “Hi again” I said.

She chuckled and said “hi”.

“Do you remember my name Mrs. Gentle Lady?”

“You’re my doctor” she said.     I couldn’t help but laugh, which made her chuckle again.

I said “no, no.  Do you remember that I rode here with you?”

“Yes, I remember that.  But I thought you were my doctor.”

I said “well I am sitting in the doctor’s chair aren’t I?”

“Yes you are!”

“And I’m sitting here with a file and I bet I kind of look like a doctor.  But I’m not.   I’m Colleen.”

“Well, I still like to think of you like a doctor.”   She made me laugh.  Which made her smile.  And her cheeks turn pink.

I looked at her tiny little self in the cot sized bed and took comfort from the color in her cheeks.  Took comfort from her gentle and constant questioning.  Took comfort from being able to give her answers.  Took comfort from knowing she will be taken care of.  I accepted in that squad run, in that hospital, that she was being given comfort.

Later, I said goodbye to her.  I knew I would have follow up on this case.  On this person.   I returned to work.  I did what I do.  People left as I returned to the office.  Someone came in and spoke to me.  Someone called me.  I typed and typed.  I made phone calls and typed some more.   I finished what it was I had to do at that moment.  I stood up.  There is no comfort in this at all.  None.  Not now.  Not doing this part.  This acknowledgement that she is not who she always had been.   She can’t acknowledge it.  But I can.  Even knowing her for a matter of hours, I knew she was not aware of as much of her life as I was.  And what was happening to it.   Even knowing that what was done was for safety and well being-there was no comfort.

And for the first time I can remember I walked in to the bathroom at work.  Silent.  Alone.  And cried.  For her losing her life, while she’s still in it.

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75 thoughts on “Losing Her Life

  1. Gibber says:

    Such a devastating disease that I wish never existed. Sorry you’re heart hurt.

  2. niaaeryn says:

    This really hits home. I am glad you were there for her. I know it hurts, it hurts everyone, but I think it comforting that you are there as she is transitioning. You are a compassionate person, genuine, human, warm and that you were there even for a little is a comforting thought to me for her and her family, although I know it is difficult. :hugs : Colleen.

    • Thank you Niaaeryn. I think these ‘stories’ are more difficult when the person is truly alone. No support system, at all. Or maybe even worse than that, is when there are people who ‘should’ be supports, and are not. It is a rewarding job for sure, difficult, absolutely.

  3. Sue Vincent says:

    I am glad you were there to see ‘her’ . Hugs, Colleen.

  4. I’m piecing the story together, from what you wrote and your tags, was she a lady with dementia who had been abused? If so how terribly sad for her and I am glad you made her feel as safe as you could, even if she didn’t understand. You’re a special person and it’s okay to cry. Your last line was so powerful yet so haunting.

  5. ksbeth says:

    i know how hard this is, for her, and for you, who understood what it all meant. i’m glad you were there for her, to make her transition easier and to offer her a bit of comfort as you saw her for who she was and is, both.

  6. GP Cox says:

    Such a heartbreaking disease, but if she’s smiling when you’re with her – you can take pride in giving her that much. I think this process is harder on you because you remember what she once was.

    • Thank you GP, I have to admit, when she smiled it made me feel better. I don’t think that’s selfish, but I do remember that feeling. It was almost a relief, that she could and would smile.

  7. Dementia is such a devastating disease and it does take you while you are still living. It is wonderful that you were there for her and she knew you were and that you helped her. You have a very rewarding job Colleen. I’m sure there is a great deal of sadness but nevertheless, rewarding in the end.

  8. So sad. Thank you for being there for her.

  9. Oh gosh, Colleen. It must be really hard on you seeing things like this. I know you have a capacity to care that may go beyond many in your field. It it nice to know there are still people like you out there in this world.

  10. April says:

    You are such a kind soul.

  11. Jim McKeever says:

    Dementia is so cruel. And you are so kind.

  12. This is beautiful and sad and comforting. And yes, sad enough to cry. Hugs Colleen

    • It sure was sad enough. I’ll never forget that. Having to get up and walk in there so I could cry. Sometimes we just plow plow plow through…. and sometimes we just have to stop and deal with the feels.

      Thank you Chris.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I am amazed you don’t spend all your time crying. I cannot imagine all you go through to help the people you do. God Bless You!!

  14. Phyllis says:

    “Losing his life while he is still in it” is happening to my dad. It’s sad.
    I love you Colleen. How you care matters in Fairfield County.

    • Phyllis, I’m so sorry you are going through this. I struggle with all I want to say in response to this. So much to say. And yet, I sit here staring at the computer not being able to form words. I will add your dad, family, to my prayers. Because He will know what I am feeling even if I can’t get the words right. I love you too.

  15. What a difficult job you do, Colleen. I salute you. I don’t doubt it breaks your heart time and again. Bless you for being the gentle listener, time and again. ❤ ❤ ❤

  16. I couldn’t do your job Colleen. I am so glad that you do your job. You are a gift. ❤
    Diana xo

    • Thank you Diana. I’m not always the gift people want. 😉 But seriously, I know that there are many who need someone knocking on that door and helping them ‘get’ help.

  17. Debra says:

    I teared up just reading, so I can only imagine! It must be so hard to have these encounters, but it is really holy work, Colleen, and I know you are with each person by divine appointment. What a treasure you are. I love that you could make her giggle. ox

    • I can usually ‘do’ what I have to do and process it pretty good. That day, I needed to process it the way it needed processed.

      Thank you Debra. And the laughter and giggles were golden.

  18. Mustang.Koji says:

    Such a powerful story and message, Chatter Master. There is always space for a heart as gentle as yours…

  19. Mustang.Koji says:

    Reblogged this on Masako and Spam Musubi and commented:
    A most touching story…of what may be in our own future.

  20. Val Boyko says:

    You are a precious gift Colleen. Sending a gentle (((HUG))) to help you nourish and replenish yourself.

  21. Take comfort in knowing that you are a blessing in her life. Just listening is a gift.

  22. mewhoami says:

    Reading this brought tears to my eyes. Of all diseases, I believe that this one is the most tragic. I cannot imagine living through this with someone. To see them go down that slope, knowing that nothing can be done to stop them. Having worked in an Alzheimer’s unit before, I understand how you felt. I just wrote a post about documenting the lives of those who have passed on. Although she is still here, what a fitting timing this is, to read this now. My heart goes out to you.

    • Though my role in these situations is never for a good reason, I have seen some remarkable demonstrations of love and commitment. I’ve witnessed amazing compassion.

      But no matter how good a situation is, to watch while someone “unbecomes” themselves, is so hard.

      Thank you MWAI, for you and your compassion.

  23. 😦 I would like to do what you do, but I don’t know if I have the strength. Thank God for people like you. I wish there were more.

  24. Paul says:

    It’s good that you were able to be there for her Colleen. I can empathize although I have not had to endure. Thank you for your service and caring.

  25. I want to say this: it is sad, so very sad, for us to see someone we love at the time when their mind begins to shut down. I watched it happen to my own great grandmother, and I would have been unhappy for her if she had not been so happy herself. She lived in a world I could not approach, but she enjoyed it. She had a house on a lake where there was stimulating conversation and dancing, and I would row her out to it once in a while, without either of us leaving our own armchairs. I could never convince her that there was not a man inside the television, talking to her. I didn’t want to.

    The only time I saw her unhappy – traumatized – was when my elders took her away and put her in a home. She did not live long after that. So my contribution is to say it was not she, but society, that was sick – that a social structure that cannot spend time and devotion in caring for its old people in their declining years, without falling back on institutions, needs rebuilding. And serious rethinking!

    • Thank you for sharing this Mr. Anderson. I love the happy place your great grandmother existed in.

      In theory I agree with you whole heartedly. Sadly, our society has changed so very much. The situations I often deal with have people outliving their families and friends. Or medical issues becoming such that it’s difficult for individuals to maintain the level of care a loved one needs. On the flip side of that, I have been so impressed with families and friends who have developed such supports that individuals could remain home. And despite all of the feelings towards nursing homes, I’ve seen men and women go to nursing homes and flourish. Where individuals have become isolated and lonely, they are returned to being social and cared for in a safe and nurturing setting. Is it preferable to a loving and safe home? Surely not. But when there is no safe and loving home a nursing home is often a good substitute.

      We no longer live in a world where the family unit expands and is responsible for all generations. Or, even if they do, people are stretched so thin it makes caring for multiple generations and supporting themselves a very difficult situation to find one’s self in.

      You’re right, surely there are better scenarios and solutions in many of these situations.

  26. You are so good a human Colleen. Thank you for that.

  27. For her losing her life, while she’s still in it.

    That defines the nature of it perfectly and poetically. To watch a loved one, anyone evaporate away…..

  28. markbialczak says:

    You did your best, MBC, and that’s all you can ever do. What a sad realization, where life and the mind can take us.

  29. It is when grace and light enters a person’s life that they are able to transition, to move on no matter how difficult the circumstances, no matter the suffering. You were that grace and light. To watch this disease insert its haze upon our loved ones and the elderly is unbearable and you my strong, compassionate friend needed a moment, a moment to feel, gather and be aware. I love that you were chosen to be there, at that moment. Life is after all, a changing, unpredictable puzzle.

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