RoseMary is slipping away from us now. Dementia has taken sharp little bites of her, piece by piece, over the past five years. In the last few weeks, her dignity has been mauled by this monster. Oh, but she was a proud, proud woman. I see echoes of that again, now that the morphine has softened the raw, red edges of panic and confusion. She looks like she is asleep, deeply.
I fear dementia, like I fear cancer or terrorists. It creeps on stealthy feet. Sometimes there is a reprieve, and we think we have conquered “it” with some magic bullet of drugs or surgical strikes. But dementia bides its time and exacts its due. Lurking. Robbing. Defacing.
For some time now, RoseMary could barely put a full sentence together….but she could still say her prayers. The Rosary was her solace, and the words to the Hail Mary came effortlessly. As of last week, she could say only “we” and “the kids” and “Marianne” and she could smile. Yesterday, her mouth moved but only jumbles and sighs came out.
Yesterday was December 15th. RoseMary and I sat close together at a table in a hot, crowded room full of old, old people, most slumped in wheelchairs, all with bibs on, some talking to someone who wasn’t there and others comatose. One of our table-mates mumbled “agua” over and over, while the other stared vacantly into space, his body arched in stiff strictures. RoseMary’s once-coiffed hair is now pure white and stick straight. Her hands moved and twisted aimlessly, reaching, shifting. I stroked her head, and we listened to a tinny rendition of “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” on the radio, while the Christmas tree lights on the small, plastic tree blinked off and on. The aide sat at the next table and checked her smartphone. I held RoseMary’s hand and whispered in her ear what she has told me all my life: you are very special to me, and I love you very much.
And then I told her that I thought people were waiting for her to come to them now: her husband Leo, her brother Bob, her sister MaryAnna, her Mother and Dad. That she had received her last sacraments and that I knew, if there was a God in heaven, that she would be welcomed there. She, who had been unfocused and agitated, turned her piercing blue eyes on me and nodded, once, slowly. I swear there was a ghost of a smile playing at the corners of her mouth.
At home yesterday, I sat at my sunny kitchen table, paying bills and waiting for kids to return from school – and I received a call from RoseMary’s nurse. At about 3 pm, RoseMary began to struggle with labored breathing. Morphine and oxygen were administered.
RoseMary’s body is no battlefield, and there are no more monsters lurking under the bed. One by one, her family and friends have come to hold her hand and to whisper in her ear, “you are loved.” She is whole again. Love is all she has ever needed, and all she needs now.