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.