Ted is covered up with a Christmas blanket fully clothed, button-down shirt, sweater, khakis, belt and all. He looks like he’s going to work.
The social worker told me that Ted’s father and brother had also suffered from Alzheimer’s. When Ted started to forget the names of his patients’ medications, he saw it coming. He moved up to Vail and became a ski instructor for his last few sunny years.
I had done a quick google search on how to communicate with late stage, non-verbal Alzheimer’s patients. Apparently trying to hold eye contact was one way of engaging, but for the most part Ted’s eyes were closed.
But, every once in awhile he would smile spontaneously, his bright blue eyes would light up and for a moment, I felt like I could see who he was. His wife Debbie told me that he just liked to hear women’s voices. She said he always loved women. He was an obstetrician after all.
I didn’t know how to communicate with someone who lived in silence. I told him about my most recent ski trips, how excited I was to have Thanksgiving with the family, asked him about his wife and little beloved dog, Bella. I read him books of fun facts and talked to him about politics. (The only political conversations I would ever agree to have). I almost expected him to respond. When he never did, I always felt self-conscious like that my words carried more weight when there was no other noise to drown them out.
I never wanted to speak condescendingly, I wanted to let him know, that I knew that he was brilliant. That his decades of delivering babies would not be forgotten even if he had. I wanted him to know that even from what little I knew about him, I was sure that his life and legacy were remarkable.
My time with him was short, I had only been his volunteer companion for about eight Tuesdays. The last few times I saw him he was losing his ability to sit up. Nurses said he was most likely having mini strokes.
When the volunteer coordinator called me the day after Christmas to tell me he had passed, I felt so much relief for him and his family. Misplaced– appropriate or not–I felt relieved. Ted was free.
I imagined his death as a dance. His soul springing out of his physical body and flying up into the blue sky feeling freedom for the first time in years. His blue eyes shining, smile beaming, mind sharp. The way he looked in the pictures adorning his room. The way he looked before the Alzheimer’s stole his mind and left his body behind.