By Chris Simmons
She’s getting worse. “Do you remember this?” I ask. She takes the embossed cork from my hand and looks it over with the idle curiosity of a bored child. Then, recognizing her own handwriting, she reads aloud “Grandale Farm, October 12, 2008.” The words hang in the air with no spark of emotion. “This would have been our second date,” she observes, her face tightening with concentration as she tries to remember. Just a few short weeks ago, her eyes would twinkle as she fondly recalled “the best date” in her life. Now all she remembers is we started dating in early October.
My beloved Karen has been sick for two years. At first, they thought it was severe asthma, then two months ago, they said advanced fibromyalgia, and now they concede they have no idea. However, since Thanksgiving, she has taken a severe turn for the worse. She is in constant pain, losing her eyesight and short-term memory, and suffering from chronic fatigue. Three months ago we were talking about getting married and now we’re selling the house and discussing her will, final wishes, in-home nursing, and funeral arrangements.
The fourteen months we have shared together have been a wonderful dream, but one that now ends. Karen knows the end is near and does not want my last memories to be the pain of watching this disease ravage her petite body. For days, she has been building an emotional wall in a desperate effort to go numb. With tears in her eyes and her heart breaking, she says she wants me to remember only “the healthy Karen.” Against my will, but respectful of her dying wish, I move to a nearby apartment.
However, it is not all bad news. Karen’s long-term memory is still intact and in early December, she resolves to get out of the house and visit friends and family, most of whom she had fallen out of contact with during her extended illness. Even in her weakened condition, reconnecting has already improved her mental and emotional state. She truly feeds off the energy of other people, so I know her outreach will both fulfill her social needs and give her a chance to say her goodbyes. It is, understandably, quite exhausting, so she will have to learn to pace herself.
To stay strong, I rely on the unconditional love of my youngest daughter, Morgan. With flowing blond hair and piercing blue eyes, she has always been my “Angel Girl.” I don’t bring her when I make my frequent checks on Karen. Her physical pain is becoming crippling and her short-term memory quickly fading. Good days are increasingly rare. Returning to the apartment after a recent visit, Angel Girl optimistically asks, “How is Karen today?” I tell her only part of the sad truth, “Her short-term memory is getting much worse.” With the innocence only a child can muster, Morgan asks, “Does that mean she won’t remember me?” Fighting back the tears, I tell her, “No my Angel, that means soon she won’t remember us.”