With seemingly endless days and weeks where life seems like the main character in the Groundhog Day movie, it’s easy to sense the despair creeping in as we feel stuck in an uncertain situation we can’t control. But we are not powerless over the pandemic – we just need to search inside ourselves and find ways of coping that are empowering, hopeful, and optimistic and realistic.
The feeling of being stuck anywhere can be turned into a feeling of rooting in, seeking new ways to add to our foundation of fortitude so we can build resilience, and appreciate the ingenuity we’ve had to tap into as we both initiated and adapted to changes.
I was reminded of the freedom of life we have during a video conversation with my beloved elder friend whose life was being overtaken by Alzheimer’s disease. Bill had been a brilliant, witty, multi-talented and successful entrepreneur who loved his work and stayed active as a consultant after retirement, while engaging in a variety of artistic activities. But he was plagued by depression after some significant losses, despair over the inevitable concessions of the aging process, and the insomnia that had affected his health for years became worse. Then he was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment which progressed to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
When he could no longer manage alone, I helped him move into an assisted living facility, which he accepted with a pragmatic attitude. He later moved to a memory care facility and said he felt safe there, although lonely and bored. Because he knew he could trust me, I became his power of attorney for healthcare. I noticed a decline each time we talked, as his cognition and communication waxed and waned. Last summer, I signed the order for hospice and removal of most of his medications, which were no longer helping, but contributing to his fatigue.
He was still relatively coherent with flashes of memory and remnants of his wit. During one of our Zoom conversations we talked about the pandemic and the quarantine in his facility. I shared with him how we were all adapting to many unexpected changes. He said, “well, at least you’re free and healthy and independent, and doing work you love – I am stuck in here.” I replied that I hoped the quarantine would be lifted soon so he could get outdoors and have visitors.
He shook his head and replied, “that’s not what I mean. You’re limited now for a while, but I’m stuck in here… and that’s forever” as he raised a shaky finger and tapped his head. It was heart-breaking and breath-taking to hear. Words of wisdom from this dear man who was reminding me that I – that we – are not stuck. We have our minds, our bodies, our health, our lives, and every morning we get to wake up, get up, show up, and create a new day.
Our last conversation was brief and poignant. He struggled for words while looking directly into the camera with piercing clarity. His whispered last words were, “I’m losing the me part of me, but I hope you don’t.” I assured him he will be with me always. He nodded and waved, then shook his head knowingly. We knew it was our final time together. Bill faded away on an autumn day, with his hospice caregiver nearby. But his spirit is with me still and I think of him every day.
Whenever I feel stuck in this pandemic limbo, I call to mind his words. He still reminds me that we are not stuck – we are not losing ourselves, and every moment is filled with opportunities to be present, work to enrich the lives of others, and importantly, cherish the gift of life.