“Three weeks and two days.”
“Three weeks and two days? Really?” my father-in-law says, staring at me quizzically.
I drop into therapist mode and respond, “I imagine that it would feel upsetting or confusing to just now be discovering this.”
“More confusing than upsetting,” he responds. “It is like I just woke up this morning and realized where I was.”
Once again we review that he was leaving a Christmas concert where he had just listened to his grandchildren sing the “Hallelujah Chorus” with other high school students. In the darkness and confusion of the parking lot, he missed a step and fell. He was in the hospital the next day for x-rays. Surgery was performed the day after. After recovering enough from surgery, he was discharged to a rehab facility, which is where we sit today.
“It is like I just woke up this morning and realized where I was,” he says … again.
If you have had a loved one with dementia, you know what comes next. Depending on how well they are functioning, you will return to the conversation over and over again. It is like a script that you follow. He asks this. I say that. He looks at his watch that has the date on it and realizes that it has been nearly a month. He says the other thing. You respond the way that you respond.
Maybe you vary how you respond in some way … or you read your lines with a different emphasis on phrases or words.
There were times when I would go into long details about the concert, about his fall, about going to a restaurant afterward because he kept saying he was alright, about helping him home, about the next day and the medical decisions that his family faced. Most of the time I leave out the two sleepless nights that I spent with him, one pre-surgery and one immediately after. I try not to remember those.
Other times, we follow the short script. This is the one where we are surprised at “three weeks and two days” but he jumps to asking about the next steps, literally and medically.
“So what is my prognosis?”
“It is good according to the surgeon. You are able to walk right now with the walker, but you have to make sure someone is with you.”
“I don’t have any pain … maybe a little discomfort over here.” He reaches over to his repaired hip.
“And how long again?”
“Three weeks and two days,” I respond.
The next part of the script is the one that keeps catching me and my wife. I suppose it is not a surprise, but a gift. After all, we have spent many many hours now in hospitals and other facilities, talking with nurses and doctors and patient care techs and rehab therapists about hips and memory.
After my father in law and I have gone through the events of the last few weeks, in either short-form or long-form, he stops. His eyes become just a bit reddened, his speech halting.
“I just want you to know … how much … we appreciate … all you have done for me, for my wife.”
The expression of gratitude is not “why” you take care of someone, yet it is a gift in itself as we stumble along this journey together.
He reaches for a tissue to wipe a tear, to attend to his nose. The tissue takes its place on the tray next to his drink, along with about six others that have accumulated there as we have been following this script.
Today is Epiphany. In liturgical Christian churches, this day is a celebration of the wise ones or magi reaching the Christ child. The very word epiphany comes from the Greek, meaning “an appearance”. The root of the word relates to something that is “shining”. Epiphanies are those “a-ha” moments of realization.
I wonder what it is like for my father-in-law.
His epiphanies are coming every few minutes. These “epiphanies” are known to his wife, to my wife, to me, to his grandchildren. But we repeat them over and over, telling the story again.
Yet, I find myself deeply grateful that at this point, even if only for this moment, these epiphanies come as a gift from Wisdom, as gratitude. To “see it” comes with glimmering, tear-filled eyes. To “see it” comes with piles of tissues on a tray in front of him.