This article is re-posted with permission. We thank Gabrielle Elise Jimenez, hospice nurse, end-of-life doula, and conscious dying educator, for sharing her experiences at thehospiceheart.net blog.
Several years ago, I was blessed to be at the bedside of an incredibly kind and generous man. Because of him I was gifted a lifetime friendship with his wife and daughter. After he died, I stayed in contact with them and we had several meals together over the years, until his wife’s memory started to fade, and confusion slowly set in. She was moved into a facility where I was able to visit occasionally, but the space between the visits became longer and longer as her condition worsened. Her daughter and I have been getting together every few months, and she has kept me updated on her mom’s decline, which was happening more quickly now.
About a week ago, she had to move her mom into a new facility that could offer her a higher level of care, which as you can imagine was tough for her. Some of you know this feeling well, you have been in her shoes, and you have had to provide full time care to someone you love. And even though you know it is the right thing to do, there are a lot of emotions that leave you tangled up inside.
I went to visit her at the new facility. I found her on the couch in the dining room, sitting alone. She looked as beautiful as I remembered, smiling, and laughing as though she was just told a funny joke. I sat down next to her, she barely looked at me, and when I said hello, she smiled at me like you do to a total stranger who just said hello, and you are trying to be polite and kind. She didn’t know me. I told her my name, which made her smile, but not in the way I hoped it would. I told her I knew her husband, which got her attention, but it was short lived. She looked right at me, and said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember you.” And my heart sunk as I held in the tears. I whispered to myself… “I remember you.”
I asked her if I could come back again for another visit, which she seemed pleased about, and then shook my hand as though she just met me. I realized at that moment we were strangers, or at least I was a stranger to her. As I walked away from her, I reminded myself that this is not about me, and while I wish she could remember me, and that our dinners never stopped, things have changed and what she needs from me, is to meet her where she is, not where I want her to be.
When I first met her, she had just started to struggle with remembering things, so she had post-it notes everywhere. At first there were just a few, but over time I watched as the notes increased, helping her to remember things she needed to do, places she need to be, and the day-to-day life stuff. I am guessing that one day she forgot to write the post-it notes and was left to fumble around her life not knowing what she needed to do or where she needed to be. Her daughter took her hand and provided the most compassionate care and support every single difficult step of the way.
When someone loses their memory, when they do not remember events or faces or even you … it isn’t personal. And while it hurts, it is not about us. Our role in these situations is to be present for them, to remove fear and not remind them of it, and to accept that being in the moment is everything to them, and all they know. We must find a way to let that be enough for us and savor each moment however we have been gifted them. It is okay to step away to cry, and your hurt is valid, so please make sure to take care of you and find someone you can talk about it with. And on those difficult moments, try to go back in time to the memories you have the luxury of bringing up and sit there for a while.