posted on 06/08/08 at 11:21 PM
I never thought I would be so happy to watch someone eat tapioca. I was with Dale, who for the last month and a half, has not been able to move the right side of his body much at all. I haven’t written anything about Dale here since the end of April, mainly because I haven’t known what to say. I’ve visited him twice a week and watched his gradual progress as he moved out of bed and into a wheel chair and begin occasionally saying one syllable words. But in the last few weeks I’d seen only very incremental changes. Until Tuesday.
On Tuesday evening, I watched Dale grasping his spoon firmly in his right hand as he meticulously worked to bring a spoonful of tapioca to his mouth. Again and again he would bring the spoon right up to his mouth only to have it fall back. Then he would get it close enough to his mouth to eat a little bit off the end of the spoon. At times it was difficult to watch, but then I would remember how miraculous it was that his arm was moving at all.
Growing up I watched from a distance one grandfather who was dramatically transformed by a stroke for the last twelve years of his life. Then my other grandfather had a stroke that led indirectly to his death a year later. I’d imagined that I might face similar circumstances with my own parents in 15 or 20 years. But I wasn’t prepared to go through this process with a close friend.
I regularly find myself thinking “it’d be great to talk to Dale about that,” only to remember that our conversations are a good deal more one sided then they used to be. And yet Dale is still Dale with his familiar smiles, smirks and laughs and he listens better then ever.
I’ve experienced the last two months as a gradual merging of three different Dales in my mind. There’s the pre-April 19 Dale, the current Dale and the Dale as I hope he will become. It is important to hold all three of these aspects together for me. This process is a confusing mix of grieving and joy, of hope and uncertainty.
This time has also given me a deep appreciation for the many strong friendships that Dale has. It seems every weekend a different friend is visiting. From the moment I first got the news of the stroke, these are relationships of support that I’ve been able to both draw on and contribute to.
After Dale finished eating we went back to his room for a visit. We sat for a while in a comfortable silence and then I told him about my week. Tomorrow I’ll visit him again and then on Thursday. And next week we’ll do the same. And we’ll see where things go from there.