All that is left are false teeth and bifocals.
When Luke opens the wall locker, he sees also a broken tea set. One of his duties in the assisted living community is the room turnover after the body is removed. This entails the packing of the late resident’s items, a thorough cleaning, and restoration to its original set up. Notifying the family, calling the medics, removing the body, are all tasks for other job titles.
He has worked diligently for the majority of the day, packing the belongings of yet another person who had spent their final months in his building. Most residents arrive and leave without making much of a mark upon him. It’s a strange type of revolving door that swings in one direction. End of life care, though within the spectrum of life, can leave the living a bit soul-weary. Thus, as a protection, most people are treated with compassion, with care, and with distance.
But not Ms. McLaughlin. Luke remembered her first day at the community. She had arrived scared, tentative. Her grown children gently reassured her that it would be okay. They had toured the building under the pretense that they were looking for more information. She had been reluctant to go, but had eventually caved under the condition that they would look only. Her children, however, had already paid the deposit for the move in. As she walked around the room she didn’t know was hers, they fled like a mother does the first day of kindergarten, figuring that if the child was going to cry and fight her mother’s departure regardless, then perhaps it was best to leave while she was distracted. Or, if they were truly honest with themselves, they fled because it was easier to let others deal with the grief of abandonment.
When she realized she was trapped, she was jailed, she did not fight. Rather, she walked back to her to her new room, to her new bed, curled into a fetal position, and cried.
Initially, Luke wondered why she was there. This community was for those suffering from dementia. They often screamed, defecated in corners of their room, begged to go home, or asked for their mothers. They would walk circles through the halls in the building and announce proudly that they always took a walk around the neighborhood to stay fit. They would ask their favorite staff members time and time again where their room was, that it must have switched in the night, because everything was wrong.
Ms. McLaughlin was not like that. She spoke clearly and would tell long-winded stories of her youth, her late husband, and her travels. She spoke of riding horses and dancing. She pointed to where she wanted her pictures hung, where to place the new rocking chair her children had gifted, and complained about the food.
But then one day, several weeks after she arrived, it started to change. Her stories repeated without key details. Trips with her husband turned into trips with her mother. She would wake up, panicked, looking for Luke. She’d beg to be let outside, convinced that she had been kidnapped and locked in a storage locker overnight.
Luke knew what dementia did to the mind, but he was still crushed. By the end, she knew him, loved him, requested him for walks, but couldn’t converse as she had. One day, she forgot his name. Little by little, the dementia consumed her. She died long before she really died.
When he walked into work and saw the boxes set neatly by the door so he could begin the packing, his heart sank. Though it slowed his pace considerably, he still stopped periodically to look at the photo albums she had shared with him during the months they had been friends. He inspected every framed picture, gingerly wrapped it in paper, and then placed it in the appropriate box. He wove the photos of her, young, beautiful, and healthy, grinning in London, in Madrid, in Mexico City, wove them into the tapestry that was her life. He saw the complexity of her life, saw the aging images of her like a mosaic, and tucked it away deep inside of himself.
Finally, it is done. The remnants of her life, ready for pick up by the family. All that is left are false teeth and bifocals.
The inspiration behind this post are the people I know who work closely with the elderly and those suffering from dementia. The catalyst of this post was a writing prompt that was posted in the Facebook group: Creative and Intuitive Writing with Words Inspire: Scribble, Share, Connect