I worked as a rehabilitation therapist.
I have a lot of notes laying around about things that I saw while working in rehab, it was the most grueling time of my life.
I had a toddler and an infant at home, and I’d spend my day teaching adults how to do things they used to know how to do.
For 5 months I worked in a palliative care unit. Most of the people were there because they didn’t have family to take care of them, or they needed constant care. Some had dementia. All were horribly miserable.
Here’s something I jotted down in my car after a shift:
He is crying.
I’ve asked him about his wife, what her name was, and he responds in tears.
"Doris!" He is staring into my eyes, he is moved by something I can’t pinpoint.
"I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked about your marriage. It is none of my business."
" No, no… it’s just…. I haven’t said her name in years.”
My stomach hit the floor. This is profound shit. More profound than I expected, I don’t have experience in responding to this kind of human intensity.
I’m used to, “Yeah, I didn’t get any sleep last night.” or “This coffee is gross” not a 91 year old man breaking down in front of me over the love of his life that he lost four years ago after spending a lifetime with her. Not this.
Dean shimmies over to his closet without his walker, opens it and locates a large box near the top. He returns to the desk I am sitting at.
He lays it before me. A photo album.
We spend the next 2 hours pouring over his life.
From birth, until his wife’s death.
His roommate enters the room. “GO AWAY ANDY!!!” Dean shouts.
Andy hobbles away, no questions asked.
My shift ended 3 hours ago. My family is at home wondering where I am. I’m here, listening to this man I barely know recall his life through tears hitting the desk. This man is truly alone. He is talking a mile a minute, memories rushing back to him. I barely understand what he is talking about. Trips, people, children, cars, pets, homes… He is vomiting his past to me as quickly as his tongue can move.
" I haven’t talked about this in years, this hurts."
My dinner can wait.