A True Malloff Woman

I wasn’t afraid of what I would see.  I had been to nursing homes/ long-term care homes/lodges before.  I had seen life as it was being gently drawn from the body and life as it had been “osmosed” per se.  I knew I would cope.  I was just unsure of how others would cope.

How clearly I remember her words, “Okay, Brian.  You have company.  Look who is here.”

And Brian stood up from his breakfast nook.  He turned, with assistance, to see Kevin and I. He was still larger than life.  In his prime he had been a gorilla of a man.  Smart!  Charming!  Witty!  Healthy!  He was, as his children had describe him, “the life of the party”. He was the entertainer.  He was the captain of his ship.  When Brian laughed, everyone laughed.  You couldn’t help yourself.  You know those people who have this infectious laugh that commands you to follow?  Well, that was Brian.  Correction – that is still Brian, although his laugh is quieter now.  His command is now less “commanding”.  Yet, there is still – still – still – that presence.

He smiled when he saw me.  He really did.  Did he remember me?  I had known him for many, many years.  Our families had been united for a long time. We hadn’t really encountered each other often, but the times we had – had been memorable.  And, I guess, it is quality – not quantity – that counts.   I felt honoured.  For that moment – I felt like I was the honoured guest – the remembered one.  And that counted.  Everyone wants to be remembered.

Alzheimer’s is a bitch.  Gord Downy described his memory loss as savage.  Yup.  It’s bad.  Times that by a gagillion and you have Alzheimer’s.  When you can’t remember to put one foot in front of the next to walk – that is brutally savage.  Outside of the residents’ suites, there were memory boxes where family members could place collages of their loved ones’ lives … when they were living.  Pam and her family had created a beautiful collection of Brian at his best.  There he was .. in the middle of the rocky beach.. in a chair.. with his multi-coloured cap on his head… his feet up.. with his dog by his side.. laughing.  God.  What an image. It sticks with me to this day.   Here was a man with so many reasons to live.  His choice was to live.  His destiny was to … fade.  Fuck.  Why?  Fuck.

And you know what is worse than that?  I saw his daughters suffer.  I saw his wife suffer.  I know his son suffered.  He – didn’t know to suffer.  And that – was the greatest blessing of all.  He was not suffering.  He lived almost second to second.  Moment to moment.  One step , literally, at a time.  “Brian, we are walking”, his wife Pam reminded him.  Not a step was taken that she did not pay attention to.  Not a breath was breathed that she did not feel.  Not a smile did she miss, not a moment did she ignore.  She – my cousin Pam – was there for him.  Always.  She was there.  He was not.

Funny.  She, a single child.  Now a care-giver for her children, her husband, and her husband’s father.  She. Only she could play that role.  She had also taken care of her father until he was well into his 90’s.  She.  The single “spoiled” child was the one to bear the brunt of this burden.  And “she” did not show for one instant that it was beyond her.  Patience.  Love.  Attention.

We walked very, very , very slowly down the hallway to Brian’s room.  Pam knew the staff and the staff knew her.  She smiled at them and they smiled at her.  She had not been a passive recipient of care.  She was active.  Her post-it notes were all over his room prompting staff at every minute detail of Brian’s care.  He was extraordinary.  And she made sure staff knew that.  She was present.

I have difficulties with the memory of this visit and I am so removed from it all.  Pam and their children live it.  They live with this situation and grapple with the loss of a husband, father, and friend…. even though he is still with them.  How?  Had he and they not established such a strong bond prior to his illness, there is no way their relationship would have been able to survive… in my opinion.

When I think I have had tough luck… I think of them.  I think of their courage.  I think of it everyday.  I remember how kind and patient Pam was with Brian and how much Alex, his daughter hurt.  Anna hurt.  Misha hurt.  They all hurt.  But – they were all bonded together in anger and in love.  So much hurt.  So much love.  So much care.  Just … so much.

Kevin and I left Victoria after visiting Brian.  We took the ferry to Vancouver and the plane to come home.  A piece of them came with me.  I hold it close to my heart.  It will never leave me – I’ll never let go.  I am forever changed.  Our parents would have been so proud.  This – I know.  That little “only-child” is one of the bravest people I know.  I am proud to call her “mine”.

If I can be half the woman she has come to be – I will have lived to hold my head high and call myself a “Malloff woman”.

I love you guys!  This  – this post – was a long time coming.  I had to wait for the words.


About inmycorner

This blog began as an opportunity to tell my Dad's stories. I sat with him and the computer and together we told stories. It was a wonderful way to get to know Dad. He was 9. He and Mom had a wonderful life together and since she passed away a year and a half before him - Dad was ready to join her. I no longer tell his stories but have found stories of my own. The impetus to resume this blog was the discovery that I had stage 4 ovarian cancer. Since blogging had been so therapeutic for my dad and I to get through our grief, I felt maybe this would be a good outlet to process my situation. I also hoped it may serve as an outreach to anyone else who is facing this very ominous journey. So far, so good.
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9 Responses to A True Malloff Woman

  1. sharechair says:

    Your post hit a note with me. My best friend is going through this now. Her husband is still at home, but slipping away far too quickly. The man I’ve known for years as a well read, witty conversationalist … now he only nods and smiles and never leaves his wife’s side (insecurity). When he recently asked her one evening to explain to him how they were related, well, you can imagine the impact. It’s a cruel disease, that’s for sure. But my friend’s care, patience and compassion ….. truly an inspiration.

    • inmycorner says:

      I honestly don’t know how people can gather that courage, care, patience.. I wonder if I could? How do we know until we are faced with it, I guess? I think it is just down-right cruel. HOw sad. What is that? To nod and smile? Only. I’m so sorry about your friend. It is amazing what we learn about people in moments like these! Many blessings.

  2. Judy says:

    Beautiful writing as always, Stacey. I feel the pain and loss. My mother suffered from dementia. I lost my best friend slowly and the anticipatory grief was devastating. You’re right – in some ways, it’s much harder on the family than the patient who can be oblivious to the disease.

    • inmycorner says:

      Oh, dear. That is awful, Judy. I’m so sorry that you have had so much pain. Guess that what has made you such a strong and caring person. Well, that and the fact that you are you. Thanks for the comment. I haven’t been on this much – healthy but busy… next week!

      • Judy says:

        I’m okay now, Stacey. It’s hard to lose someone we love – fast or slow has different forms of grief. Right now, I’m busy! I took a vacation to Costa Rica and will be back next week. I’m so glad to hear you’re feeling healthy and are busy – that makes me smile!

      • inmycorner says:

        Costa Rica???? I have a cousin who lives there — he loves it. Enjoy. And, as always, thanks for the support.

      • Judy says:

        You’re welcome! Yes, it’s a very interesting and wonderful trip. On my last post is the story about how it came about. I feel like Jason is with Lupe and I. Lupe was his nanny and I hadn’t seen her for 26 years. It’s been wonderful reconnecting with her.
        And that’s very cool that you have a cousin living here. I can see why; it’s such a beautiful country.
        I’m also so happy to support you!

  3. Gwen says:

    You my friend have the courage and strength of a “Malloff woman”. I’m sure you could offer the same type of care to those you love. It is indeed a cruel disease. You had the patience, love and understanding to care for both of you parents in their final days. I really don’t know why aging has to be so difficult: watching someone you love slip away “mentally” and not know who you are, or have them slip away “physically” and not be able to share their thoughts verbally. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

    • inmycorner says:

      Thanks, Gwen. It is tough. I AM a Malloff woman for sure. I cry at Russian music that’s for sure and I like cognac (although can’t take it anymore!) You, too, have patience, love and understanding. We need this as we watch those Jays tonight. Ugh!

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