Many of my patients have had some form of dementia. Watching a family wander its dark corridors together is a hard part of the job, though, of course, it's not as hard as living with it daily. I get to come and go. In the midst of the confusion and repetition, a patient will catch me off guard every now and say something enlightening with great clarity.
An 89 year-old woman, stuck in time, not remembering much past 1960, asks me the same questions over and over again every time I visit: Where were you born?, what year are you in school?, do you live nearby? We go through the answers with only minor variations and she will include pieces that she remembers from her earlier years sometimes. She will also try to gain some traction by reading any and all words in front of her. This past visit, she tried desperately to keep up with the words in TV commercials, reading them out loud and trying to make some sense of them.
Somewhere in this revolving world, she started to shake her head back and forth and said, "it just goes around and around, I don't know what it's about. But I'm glad to be a part of it."
I think that part of the reason weaning Baby Girl has been so difficult is because I could not see what the end looked like. Obviously, physical signs occur, but even those are hard to anticipate and to control. Throwing in angst and relief into the tumbler makes the emotional cycle seem never-ending.
I recognize these truths: it is the last step of physical detachment, the baby was conceived, carried, birthed, and nursed. The end of this journey is only the beginning of the baby's gradual move towards an independent life. Even though the process is natural and healthy, the parent often struggles to relinquish those ties.
In the humid dusk, Baby Girl and I filled up several empty frappaccino bottles with dirt and planted some staple herbs in each one, creating our windowsill garden. Sweaty, (excuse me, "misty"), buggy, and sandy, we headed straight for the shower after we finished. She loves water, no matter its form, even if her face gets wet.
As we rinsed off the outside, she suddenly became still in my arms and placed her face in the crook of my neck. Not since she was just a few days old has she settled down enough to do that for long; she loves to move too much. And of course, the water from the shower was no longer the only source of water on my face. I entered into a full-blown messy cry and she picked her head up and looked into my wet eyes. Her brow showed puzzlement and she searched for a solution in her 7 month-old resource library. I tried to explain it to her--"Mama loves you so much and she just doesn't have the capacity to always deal with it well." I guess that my 32 year-old resource library didn't have an answer either.
Willing or not, Baby Girl and I moved out of the nursing stage and into the next. It didn't matter that it had the potential to be lovely and wonderful. Leaving was hard, regardless.
She put her head back on my shoulder and within a few seconds, fell asleep. I stood there in the cleansing water with my cleansing tears, enjoying the moment, needing the moment, and thanked the Creator for giving me some solace.
The water began to lose its warmth and I was forced to leave the moment behind. However, I stepped out feeling consoled, knowing that I had discovered the end.
I know that emotions are circular and that any moment an overwhelming flood may come. I may find that I cannot keep up, that I may struggle for traction, that I may be puzzled and in search of some answers.
Yet, I'm glad to be a part of it all.