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The long goodbye: My visit with a classmate who suffers from dementia

By Edward A. Forbes

The Bulletin

I recently visited with an old high school classmate. She’s in a nursing home in the secured area from which residents can’t wander out.

As I entered the gate to the facility and approached the front door, a gentleman sitting near the door rose from his chair, and using a walker, reached to open the door for me.

I started to open the door for him and realized he was waiting not for someone special but for any visitor that he could welcome by opening that door for them. His job, his pleasure, and, perhaps, sense of purpose was being that unofficial greeter of all visitors. How unkind it would be to usurp his position.

I arrived at the secure unit where my classmate spends her days. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of stimuli, but what can you tell in an hour? One gentleman was sitting alone at a table, working on a coloring book. A few were sitting in front of a television with the Price Is Right showing (the sound off). There was no murmur of conversations held, no laughter, no reaction to a stranger’s appearance.

She knew me and asked, “You’re Eddie, aren’t you?”

I happily confirmed that, and she reiterated occasionally during the visit, “You’re Eddie, aren’t you?”

It was a sad but nice visit, short because I didn’t know what to say. Mom’s Front Porch (Gretchen Moore, bless her) had sent two of her favorite chocolate chip cookies with me.

She ate one of the cookies during our visit. I broke the cookie into small pieces as she was having difficulty with the large entity. As I prepared to leave, I gave her the other cookie after I carefully repackaged it in the wrapper Mom’s Front Porch had provided.

She remembered Gretchen. “She’s such a sweet girl,” she said. She was running her finger over the Mom’s Front Porch sticker on the package as I left.

If you don’t have a friend or relative dealing with dementia, you may not realize the sacrifice and dedication required to care for the “patient, spouse, loved one” at home. It requires a 24-hour, seven days a week commitment. Even with paid help, a person of my age, or older or younger, is exhausted emotionally and physically - that much I know. The heartbreak and love for that person who is only there in fleeting moments must be unbearable.

 I turned to say goodbye

Did you even know I was there

The memories we shared

Are now mine alone

Did you even know I was there

Are the memories locked away

Where only you see them

Unable to share or voice them

Did you even know I was there

Do you know the face in the mirror

The voice in the room

Do you even know who’s there.

- E. A. Forbes 5-1-2024

(Edward Forbes wants to hear from you. Email him at eforbes1946, or send comments by mail to The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton TX. 77516.)


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