Facing the Wall
He lies in the bed, facing the wall. Fetal. Feeble. Old white t-shirt and hands clasped in what seems to be constant worry.
Alzheimer's is a flood in the dark, cold and brutal and inexorable. You don’t know what’s been taken until its gone.
4 years ago, he started to forget where he put his keys. 3 years, he’d look at you, knowingly, and nod, even though he had no idea what you were talking about. 2 years, and he started forgetting the distant relatives, like the nephew who should have taken the 6 hour drive more often. Last year, he started to forget why he was standing there. Last month, he forgot how to feed himself. Yesterday, he forgot his wife.
82 has never seemed so old, until you notice his mother-in-law grieving with the rest.
You look and you say “This is no way to die.” You grieve and say, “It’d be easier if it was quicker.”
Easier for who?
What is a good death?
A heroic battlefield death, that turns the tide of a just war? Broken suspension in an F1 car that sends the driver headlong into the wall at 200 mph? A Shuttle disintegrating?
Dying doing what you love? My father-in-law died doing what he loved, laying on the couch and watching tv.
Truth is, life’s a rental. We all have to turn the keys in.
Does a good death redeem a wasted or vapid or selfish or hateful life?
Does a ‘bad’ death make waste of a good life?
By all accounts, this man is the man you wanted to be.
Smart? Smart enough to get his PhD, to write books, to receive acclaim.
Successful? Enough to buy a pair of mountains, and build his cabin.
Creative? Enough to quit being a Doctor, and start being an artist, full time.
Cool? He wore the fedora, and smoked the pipe, without a hint of irony.
His library is telling. Cookbooks, fiction, encyclopedia from the 1700’s, books on psychology (his field), books he’d written, Zen gardens, bonsai trees and more books focused on the how of a hundred different subjects. Most interesting are the newest books, purchased before his mind started to disappear. Books on writing fiction. Character names and plot structure and arcs and exciting events. To the end of his capabilities, he was growing, learning. Learning until he started forgetting.
Those books aren’t simply useless knowledge either. The zen gardens and bonsai trees at the cabin attest to the application of the knowledge. The same with the art on the walls, the studio and successful business selling the glass.
This was a man, who wore the fedora, dungarees, denim shirt and heavy brown boots, not because they looked good on the page, but because he needed shade, and dirty clothes, and sturdy shoes because he worked the mountain. Building streams and ponds. Making trails, not through some automated process of land clearing, but by wearing his own path into the earth.
Love. Have I mentioned love? There was no great conquest or journey involved. No heroics at the beginning. None of the fluff that writers use to make love seem worth the pain.
But it was there, and in excess. The love he shared with his Indian Princess (neither Indian nor Princess) is worthy of a three act play, if for no other reason than its normalcy, in an abnormal world. Truly devoted to each other in a way that seems far fetched to today’s cynicals. It wasn’t excessive, or a put on, but you couldn’t spend a Thanksgiving dinner with them without noticing the gentle words and sly touches.
And true love, like a good death, has been stolen from us by glurge and fiction.
Is true love killing yourself because you can’t bear to be without the other? Or is it the cleaning and caring and feeding, long after its an inconvenience. When it becomes work.
She’s there. It’d be easier for her, they said, to put him in the hospital, let them care. She could visit, once in awhile. It wouldn’t hurt as bad. But, dammit, true love is the hurt. Not taking the bad with the good, but knowing it’s bad, and doing it anyway.
So, she feeds, and cleans and coddles. The man who held her and loved her and wooed her, she wipes and pats and shaves. It’s love because it hurts. The rest home staff get paid for their care, and they do good, worth more than the pittance they receive. But it’s a job. She’s there because she wants to be there. Because he’d do the same for her.
We all claim we don’t have the time. To spend on the hobby of making ourselves better. To spend with family. To change careers. To do.
Then there are those who find the time, take the time, and make the most of time. Art, psychology, investments, zen gardens and bonsai trees, a family and a lasting love. Even the silly stuff like picking up Half-life and Starcraft at the age of 70. And finishing them. In between making bread and smoking meat, and traveling.
What’s a good death? Who cares. It’s the life, the dash, what you did with the rental while you had it.
We all have to face the wall. What do we do before we turn?
***Posted here because I don't have a better place to put it.***
****Also, www.glassfeather.com ****