You lost your reason this morning.
You had known it was coming. For three days now, she hadn’t left her bed. Her family had told her it was okay to let go, and when they couldn’t be there, you took the somber task of bedside vigil. They couldn’t thank you enough for the care you’d given their precious mother. For a year, you watched as the spiky tentacles of this horrific affliction drug her down into its depths. You served as her guardian as she navigated the culmination of her ninety years. She never addressed you by name, but she loved you with a love that not even her dementia could take away.
You beelined to her room without even clocking in for your shift. A strange sixth sense told you that that’s where you needed to be. You hadn’t even had your morning coffee yet and in part you still felt like, and hoping you were dreaming.
Her eyes were open and immediately met yours as you entered the room. Like most mornings, she was waiting for you to arrive. She was gasping those slow, shallow breaths that you knew meant only one thing.
You knelt beside her bed and reached for her hand. You told her that you loved her, and how proud you were of her bravery. That you would be okay and that it was okay to let this journey be over.
A few seconds later, the light left her eyes.
You do not need an advanced medical title to know the stillness that only death can bring.
You numbly went through the motions of checking for life. No pulse, no hot sticky breath stinging your cheek.
A professional numbness seemed to overcome you, a strength that your sensitive self didn’t even know you were capable of. You stood up and walked mindlessly out of the room, leaving your heart by her bedside and became painfully aware that life was in the process of continuing on.
The numbness would only continue, as your support system flooded in, standing by as you cleaned and dressed your reason for the final time. Then came the dreaded part, as the funeral home came to collect her. You kissed her one last time as they shrouded her in a white bed sheet and before you knew it, the hearse was pulling away.
When our reasons leave us, we are left to grieve in silence. We are held to an expectation of coldness and tears are especially unwelcome. HIPAA prevents us from speaking of our unique heartbreak to others, and coworkers will often look at you through wrinkled noses and judgmental eyes.
Some of us may be lucky enough to receive an article of clothing, a piece of jewelry or a stuffed animal to hug; a tangible way to remember our reason. Others may only have sheer memories to cling to. Memories that may blur with time, even though we try so desperately to hold onto them. Pretty soon, our reason’s name will be removed from the wall and the room will be filled with a stranger who somehow is expected to take their place. And for a while you will be filled with a silent outrage, knowing quite well that this room will never be anyone else’s but hers.
Yet you still wake up and make the drive, knowing you won’t be greeted by your favorite face.
You arrive at room that just weeks ago was the very place you felt your heart shatter. You help the stranger get out of bed, dress them and bring them to the dining room for breakfast. And you’ll do it again, tenfold.
And you continue to make that drive, through the haze of summer, crisp leaves, torrential snow and the relief of spring rain.
You’ll laugh, and you’ll love and you’ll hold the hands of many different people.
And you’ll realize, eventually, that your reason lives forever.
Elizabeth Smith is a professional caregiver working with people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.