In the spring of 1974 I left my grandfather in his room after a long visit, and he died six hours later. I visited my mom for 2 weeks in February of 2008 — a week before she died. But I abandoned my father when he had Alzheimer’s.
He had clung to me and cried when they left NJ for WI, where they could get real help and comfort. “I’ll never see you again!” he said over and over; and in spite of my protests, it turned out to be true.
He moved to a wonderful hospital in Sturgeon Bay, WI, with a wing that had all the patients’ rooms surrounding a big, lovely atrium, like spokes in a wheel. He would wander in this plant-world every day, going in circles without knowing it, under the turning sun that shone down through the skylight. He didn’t know anyone, my mother told me. But at least no one was pushing or controlling him. He could wander — or sit on the benches — at will.
There was an extra bed in his room for visitors, but my mom stopped coming because he didn’t know her any more. In the end he died earlier than we expected him to, surrounded by loving strangers. The nursing staff were all our neighbors and knew and cared about us — and the art and photography he and his professional-artist friends had created over the years was on all of the walls of the hospital.
His memorial service was one of the funniest events I’ve ever attended, each of his friends trying (and succeeding) to top each other with stories about my dad and how hilarious he had been.
So much depends on just being there — but when is the right time?