The peace came and went like waves over Curtis, with time stretching out to still another silent year. I was sure that he still recognized and loved our loving voices. When we spoke his name, he always tried to smile—a lifelong habit.
He often lay rigid, almost catatonic, with all elasticity gone from his body. To straighten his legs and arms would be almost to break them. Georgia sat beside him hour after hour after hour, talking and reading to him, hoping for a response. Outside March winds brought song sparrows, flock after flock, to sing at his window. “His eye is on the sparrow,” Georgia would sing the old gospel song, “And I know He watches you.” She’d go on to other familiar hymns, then wearily leave the room and burst into tears.
“I don’t want you to be alarmed,” said the doctor, “but I don’t want you to be surprised if anything happens.” We knew it wasn’t a matter of “if”; we just didn’t know “when”. The days went on day after day, week after week, and month after month. My greeting was not “How is Curtis today?” (I knew all too well.) but “Has Curtis smiled today?” And he would respond with a faint, slow smile.
It was only when he no longer opened his eyes that we felt completely lost, suddenly realizing how the whole family for months had been held together by the tenuous strands of his smiles.
Many distressing and depressing days followed in monotonous succession. The details are too intimate and painful to recount. But when Curtis died we found that we could testify that the spirit really does prevail. As the heavy load of concern fell from our shoulders we became aware of how the long experience had refined our sensibilities and deepened our compassions. Our greatest comfort was the knowledge that we had been privileged to love Curtis and to care for him.
“CAREGIVER’S CORNER” insert for ASN NEWSLETTER v21n1, Winter 2009.
Excerpts from CURTIS An Alzheimer’s Story by Lessie Culpepper Hagen
An ASN publication, c.1988. All Rights Reserved.