Yesterday I drove to the park and, as always, slowed on the adjacent street, where little wiggly people are unloaded from back seats. A car at the curb had its doors open on the street side, so I stopped and waited.
A man stood at the side of the car, arm outstretched, helping someone out. Not a wiggly little person but a ponderously slow older person. A woman. Bundled warmly against the November day, she held his hand tightly. I caught only a brief glimpse of her but I knew. I knew those blank eyes and that empty face. I knew that slight curl inward. I couldn’t swallow because of the lump in my throat and I couldn’t see because of the tears. It all comes back so quickly.
I walked around the park and so did they. No. They did not walk. She moved her feet in that familiar shuffle, achingly slow, leaning hard on him. His baby steps described patience beyond words. Twice I noticed that they stood in embrace, she apparently clinging to him.
There was a slight wind, causing tears to run down my face. I tasted their salt and was grateful for the release.
Caregiving and dementia change people so I cannot say if he were husband or son, but I think son. I think the husband was at the playground with a little granddaughter, he seeking respite which isn’t because there is no respite from dementia. It is merciless in its constancy and as steely cold as the water in the creek.
I stood over the creek yesterday and thought about the cold water that runs through life and the daunting aloneness of those who stand firm in it.