Tuesday, December 12, 2017

There is Now Nothing Left for Dementia or Alzheimer's to Take

Gummy died.

On a Sunday afternoon she took her last breath and our hearts broke. There were no profound last words. There was no Hollywood scene to soothe her passing.

Hospice never showed up. On the other side of the curtain her rehab roommate did exercises with her physical therapist. We held our vigil alone, unseen, and ignored. Our chairs pressed against her bed, chairs we'd sneaked from other parts of the home.

   We're here.
   We love you.
   We're staying here with you.

Once I held a vigil at the bedside of a friend's child. Machines were turned off while hospital noise and nurse laughter filled the hallway.

Maybe that's how it should be. The world does not stop for death. You get your purse and dig out car keys and drive home, leaving behind a child, parent, or a mother-in-law.

At home I stare at nothing and go through motions, dinner, laundry, funeral. I call people and go to the mall so Gummy can have a pretty new blouse for her funeral. I buy underthings too, expensive ones, because this is the last thing I can do for her.

During the next week I think that often, until I follow the minister's eulogy and speak aloud the words I'd written in the notes app of my phone, heated words, loving words. A wise woman once told me to speak even if my voice shakes. It doesn't, but my hands do. They want to hit something. Afterwards I kiss Gummy goodbye and know she's not there. I help carry the coffin that the guys said isn't heavy. It is.

At the cemetery I sit in one of the chairs by the grave, watching light and dark bounce shadows over the mahogany of the casket, like it did over Gummy's life. The minister unexpectedly sings. It's a song about turning into a butterfly. He has a beautiful voice. Mentally I always correct these lyrics. Butterflies do not hatch from cocoons. They drop their exoskeleton and form a chrysalis. It's much more magical and possibly painful, like Gummy's painful struggle with dementia and Alzheimer's. 

With family and friends I place a yellow rose on top of her casket and walk away.

Between the cemetery and the church I have time to cry. There will be more time later when sorting through her things from memory care and I find all the little notes she wrote herself.

   Gummy Karfelt.
   Call Poppy and tell him to come get you. It's been tough here.
   Gummy Karfelt.
   Gummy Karfelt. My phone number is...
   My birthday is...

Small stupid things break my heart.

   Those personal pizzas they sell at the front of Target that she liked.
   Her frog socks.
   The broken shard of a ceramic piece in the bottom of her purse—the brown hand of a Native American Princess she'd painted and broke during a tantrum. 
   A single vintage hair curler from the 50's.

The ceramic hand and curler will end up in a baggie with her notes, and tucked into a drawer in the room she used to live in at my house. 

Pictures have become priceless and they go into drawers too. For weeks I move slower and can't shake this cold. But I hold the baby tighter no matter what cooties she brings home from day care, and I buy over-priced Harry Potter LEGOS for kids I don't know from the Angel Tree at the bank. At Starbucks I drink the venti size chai latte and talk to a friend in pain of her own. We laugh. A lot.

At night before the stores close I shop for Christmas gifts for family and friends whether they celebrate or not. It doesn't matter. I'm thinking of you. You need to laugh too. We all do. Gummy would understand. Gummy would be laughing already, appropriate or not. I know this. We had the same inappropriate sense of humor.

Stoics say we only have the present. The past is gone. We'll never have the future, only a series of now's. No matter how many we get, they do end. Gummy's now is over. But she had them, and she made them beautiful and light. Neither dementia nor Alzheimer's could do a damn thing about that. Life is beautiful. If you make it so. It's not easy, but it is your choice how to spend your now's. 



  1. I am so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute to you Gummy. May God bless you and be with you and your family. Take care.

  2. Oh, piffle, what do stoics know? What do we know? So little compared to the vastness of the universe we're part of, so little compared to the amazing beauty of our galaxy within that monstrous universe, so little compared to what those slave-owning Egyptians knew about building pyramids long before anyone should have known such things...

    Intelligence and faith and time and space... I see all of them joining on their separate planes, merging and converging because one without the other sings of ridiculousness... and if time and space and a universe from nothing (impossible) exist... well then, I'm going to jump on that heavenly ever after as promised. For all of us, for all the Gummys and Floyds and Floyd Seniors and Charlies and Irvs and Chesters and Lesters and all the male relatives who've given over to this stupid, insidious disease... May they rest in peace and may they wait for us in heaven...

    With some angels and saints to guide the way.

    And I pray for a cure. For this and cancer. If that can happen in my lifetime, well a Hallelujah chorus is in order!

    Hug that baby.

    Pick flowers.

    And pull weeds.... no matter how natural they may be, if they don't belong in the garden, it's our job to remove them and give the blossoms room to thrive.

    I am sorry hospice never got there. :( But you got there. And that's the best send off of all.

    1. Thanks Ruthy,
      And I love the way you see the world, and I hope hard for a cure too, or at least a vaccine to prevent it from spreading. It's a cruel cruel disease, but despite the theft of Gummy's golden years, she did have a beautiful life. <3 <3 <3