Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Saying Goodbye

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Elizabeth had been at "the home" for 2 months, fluctuating between major decline and rallying to get back home with Lloyd. Those two were one of the handful of couples I have met during my career who gazed into each other's eyes after 60 years as if they had just fallen in love.

In fact, Lloyd told his cousin when he was 16, and Elizabeth 14, that he was going to marry that "pretty little thing" who was visiting her grandparents on the coast from her home in Sacramento.

He did, 3 years later. Lloyd is one of the most devoted husbands I have ever met. He visited our facility twice a day for the 2 months Elizabeth was rehabbing.

It became a struggle to make progress. She went into what we in the industry call "failure to thrive."  It means what it says.

Lloyd and I had moments during the last several weeks in which we knew Elizabeth would not return to her former state. My mission evolved from rehabbing her to home to dealing with more basic issues like making sure she did not choke when she ate and positioning her in bed to prevent decubitus ulcers.

We could no longer "skill" her for rehab. That means we had treated every area we could, and there was no longer anything else we could do.

Lloyd planned to take her home last Thursday, December 29. That morning, one of the aides informed me that she had already been assisted to his car. I knew I had to say goodbye.

I ran to the car and rapped on the passenger window. Lloyd was still inside signing her release. Elizabeth was so frail she could not reach to open the door, so I eased the door open and leaned in beside her.

We looked into each other's eyes. We smiled deeply. I told her what it meant to me that I had the privilege to know her. She told me she would never forget me. We hugged, knowing it would be the last time we would see each other. Lloyd's sister sat in the driver's seat and wept.

I left town after Thursday and returned late last night. I was treating a new patient in the gym this morning when one of the aides walked down to inform me that Lloyd was in the building. Elizabeth had passed away Friday morning, the day after she returned home.

Lloyd stopped by the rehab department, and we held each other tight for a moment. We recounted precious moments, like when he brought photos of their life together when they were young, how hard she worked in therapy, how devoted she was as a wife and mother, and how happy she was to return home. "She was so happy to look around all the rooms and see all the things she had collected over the years," he said.

" got her home. That was such a gift for her."

He agreed.

I knew it wasn't the time and place to cry, so we said goodbye, and I went back to my treatment and squeezed back tears.

Tonight, though, I figure it's just fine to feel emotional. Elizabeth had held on through so many days just to go home with her husband. She made it! It took everything she had. She barely held on each day so that she could leave this world from her own home. With her loving husband by her side.

Elizabeth and Lloyd touched my life in such a deep and simple way. We had a connection that many people never find in their work.

That is why I work with older people in a skilled nursing facility. It's not a glamorous place, but of all the environments in which I have worked, it is by far the most satisfying.

I get the privilege to share my days with people like Elizabeth and Lloyd.

God bless you, Elizabeth. Rest in peace!

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