“Get me outta here!” was the constant refrain I heard during the last 10 days of my husband’s life.
There was no doubt that he was ready to move on. Struggling with dementia and immobility for quite a few years, it seemed as if he had outlived his own life.
True to his real nature, my husband was a Warrior till the end. The indelible mark of a U.S. Marine was part of his essence. He did not go gentle into the good night. When, at last, the portal opened and he stepped over, I was filled with both grief and relief.
What a journey these last 11 years have been. Caring for a loved one with dementia is a freefall into chaos. All along the way, I was thrust into unknown circumstances.
The daily routines could be tediously boring and yet, as I learned, circumstances could change on a dime. We’d go from “same old – same old” to “OMG. Now what?” I was constantly scrambling around trying to adjust and adapt.
Believe me, caretaking is not for sissies. Thankfully, I had the help of a devoted home care aide. Right until the very end, my husband got good care and good lovin’.
His death was not unexpected. Hospice does an excellent job at preparing family members for what will happen and what to do. When Curt took his last breath, I was there, holding his hand and humming along to the melody of “What A Wonderful World” – the song I had picked for his final farewell.
After spending some time in quiet meditation, I followed the hospice guidebook and proceeded down the checklist of what needed to be done. I felt that I was functioning better than expected that morning. I called Curt’s caregivers. They came immediately. A close friend brought coffee and Kleenex. I was checking off all the boxes and somehow managing to hold it together.
However, there was one more hurdle to get over that day and I knew it would be a tough one, so I planned accordingly. When the funeral home arrived to pick up my husband’s “overcoat of clay,” I decided to retreat into the living room. I just couldn’t watch my beloved partner of 31 years making a final departure.
Curt’s caregiver took charge. She propped open the double set of front doors to our house, shooed our cat, Buffy, down into the basement so he wouldn’t make his usual “Houdini escape,” and then ushered me into the living room. She carefully closed both sets of parlor doors so that I could remain in the living room undisturbed. I put on my favorite Vivaldi CD and took a seat on the couch, trying to focus my mind on something other than my husband’s final exit.
All of a sudden, I felt something furry brushing up against my ankle. I looked down and, lo and behold, I saw a little tabby cat. She must have darted into the house (and into the living room) when the doors were open. It seemed like such a mystical moment to me. A strange cat entering a house is thought to be a sign of good luck. Cats are also believed to be very spiritual animals, representing rebirth and resurrection. (Remember, a cat does have 9 lives!)
The kitty was wearing a plain yellow collar with a little bell attached to it. When the coast was clear (Curt had departed and Buffy was still locked in the basement), I offered her some food and water in the kitchen. She wasn’t interested so I concluded that she was not a hungry, stray cat.
Since she had no visible ID, I gave her a name— Belle. (Curt’s mother’s name was Lois Belle.) Belle wandered around the house, upstairs and downstairs – everywhere but the basement. When she was through exploring, she waited patiently by the front door, letting me know that she was ready to head out into the wild blue yonder. I opened the door and off she went.
As my husband journeys on into the Great Unknown, I’ll always remember the little kitty who magically appeared with split-second timing to assure me that a seeming void is already filled with love.
Lynda Jeffrey Plott, a native of Bucks County, now resides in Washington, D.C. A former kindergarten teacher, a freelance writer and lecturer, she became her husband’s fulltime caregiver in 2010.