Editor’s Note: The brief personal essay is a powerful form of writing capable of building one’s understanding and acceptance of the feelings defining grief. Once the painful trip is made, publication can share the experience with a willing audience. . . often helping many.
Author’s Note: “When I lost my husband, I could no longer see, hear, touch him. But he lived on in my heart and mind. Shortly thereafter, I lost my father-in-law to dementia. I could still see, hear, and touch him. But in his heart and mind, I no longer existed. After my last visit to his nursing home, I tried to put on paper my grief at this second loss, this second kind of death.”
MY FATHER-IN-LAW NO LONGER KNEW ME when I saw him for the last time. Deaf, almost blind, and in the grip of dementia, he looked at me blankly as I stood in front of him. The nursing home aide leaned down and spoke loudly in his ear. “It’s your daughter-in-law. She’s come to visit you.”
“Hi, Dad!” I said, waving my arms and smiling. He sat in his wheelchair and stared. I waved harder and said louder, “Dad, it’s me! It’s Tess, your daughter-in-law. I’m Richie’s wife. You lived with us in our house in Flushing.” Nothing.
“Remember how you used to sit in the backyard all summer? And the hot dogs you loved every time we barbecued?” Nothing. House, yard, happy summers, and hot dogs were as forgotten as I was.
Dad was my last living tie to my recently deceased husband. Desperate now, I went on. “Can you remember Richie? Your son?” Still nothing.
Before his mind stopped working, Dad had greeted me each visit by saying, “Are you all right? Everything is on you now.”
Everything was on me. Dad had outlived his family, including his only son, and I was now his legal caretaker. Dad was an old-fashioned gentleman, and I was fond of him, but I couldn’t help resenting his longevity. His only child, my husband, hadn’t made it to seventy-five, yet Dad was now pushing ninety-eight. Luckily for him, I had inherited my husband’s fierce sense of family loyalty; his mantle of caretaker now rested on my shoulders. He had always done the right thing by his family, and numb with his loss, I felt good every time I went to the nursing home in his stead.
Before each visit, I felt guilty for having negative thoughts. But I did have them. Every time I looked into Dad’s warm brown eyes, so like his son’s, I resented the fact that those eyes were not his son’s. But despite my unvoiced bitterness, I always left feeling virtuous. I was doing the right thing, just as my husband would have done, and the link between us held.
As Dad’s dementia progressed, the saddest phase was when he voiced his awareness that he couldn’t recall things, or people, properly. “I can’t remember right,” he’d say, shaking his head. At least you still recognize me, I thought, holding his hand and wondering if he’d know me next time I came.
And now I did not exist at all in his mind. “Bye, Dad,” I said, as the aide wheeled him into the common room for lunch. He did not wave back.
Numbly, I walked to my car. I thought to my husband, Well, at least we know Dad is being taken good care of. But, honey, he doesn’t remember me anymore. I don’t know about another visit. I hope you understand. And dear, if I’m lucky enough to join you someday in heaven, please… remember me.
Terry Riccardi is a philatelist and freelance editor. She says that when not creating dark-hued tales, she can be found trying to bowl a perfect game, watching classic movies, and searching for lost jigsaw puzzle pieces. She hopes to be a world-famous author when she grows up. In addition to the Delmarva Review, her work has appeared in Newtown Literary, Corvus Review, Black Petals, and three literary anthologies. Riccardi lives in New York.
Delmarva Review publishes the most compelling new essays, poetry, and short stories from thousands of submissions annually. Publishing from St. Michaels, Maryland, the literary journal has featured the new writing of more than 500 authors world-wide since its first edition fifteen years ago. Forty-one percent are from the Chesapeake-Delmarva region. The journal is available worldwide from Amazon.com and other booksellers. Support comes from tax-deductible contributions and a grant from Talbot Arts with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Website: www.DelmarvaReview.org