Alzheimer’s (and/or dementia) is a disease that takes family and friends along on a journey to dark places with the afflicted loved one that they can never return from. We can only share a few brief momentary glimpses into their spiraling journey to that world. A place they can’t describe and we can only imagine exists. Inspired by existentialist writer John Barth’s “Night-Sea Journey” (from short stories collection “Lost in the Fun House”). I wanted to write my vision for what this journey is all about. Sitting here in the Alzheimer’s wing of a small nursing home bedside with my mom today as she heads to the gates of her final departure. I needed to write “The waiting Room”. In memory of Elizabeth Curtis McCarthy Huston 1930-2011
THE WAITING ROOM
Today I got the call that I am on the short list. It’s like winning the lottery. They told me to come ahead, get ready to establish my place in line, to remain near by and be ready for the call. My family has come and we have packed my apartment up, sold off the extraneous belongings and narrowed down what I need for the trip. I read that Ancient Egyptians used to plan for their astral passage, contemplating all they would need for their long journey to the next world. But this is different more real than that fictional journey. We are going to actually journey beyond the typical travel destinations. This is a trip of a lifetime.
My mother tried to take this trip but she got tired and missed the call. I will be ready and in position when they call. This is a chance of a lifetime.
I am sitting here in the waiting room today, my small quarters nearby. Food is provided and regular activities are organized to help pass the time. While life is comfortable here, days run into weeks and months. The staff tries to get us to go on “short” excursions away from the waiting room, but I know I need to be here. I’m not sure when I will get the call, but I am ready my bags are packed. Every morning I arrive early, often I am last to leave. Many sit here with me, some days we talk for hours other days we just sit in silence and contemplate our readiness. Some believe this journey is to another part of the solar system, others believe it is just a long cruise with a special guide who will take us past the known realms of our imagination. I have spent years reading and learning about the trip and I am certain that it will be all that they have promised.
It has been a very long wait. It is becoming so lonely to sit here. I have realized now that if I keep my focus I will be picked to move on. So many others sitting here have tired of the waiting and finally go back home. Some just don’t believe that anyone will get the call. They are waiting for nothing, lost their focus, and it drags down the hopes of the few who still have faith in the system. Some days I think back to my friends and life back home. I know they miss me, I miss them. We write letters back and forth from time to time. I enjoy hearing from them, but I don’t seem to have much to tell them these days. They don’t realize that this is a full time job. All my attention must be focused on being ready.
Day after day the group waiting here grows wearier. I can’t really spend time explaining to them why they need to persevere. I know the trip is worth the wait. I know this because I spent time with some of my friends and relatives who made the trip. I spent time visiting with them while they sat in the waiting room.
There are people here in the waiting room working undercover. Their job is to test us to see who is really ready to go. I am on to their tricks. I know that my actions and discerning perceptions, and insightful responses to their queries will impress them and allow me to be picked soon. Last night I had a dream, the call is coming today I know it. Then today I heard it…my name was called. It happened while I was meditating, focused on the coming journey. When I heard my name, I looked up to the messenger from headquarters. They came in person. I knew they would. I now realize that I don’t need much but my clothes and a few personal items and some photos. It was a cold journey out doors beyond the large waiting area. We have moved from that outer waiting room to the smaller inner waiting room. Just one “door “remains ahead. This is the staging area for leaving. I can tell this group has the same goals as I, to be picked for the next departure.
Time has passed now and some days I lose site of the reasons I am here. One day I had a sensation that came over me that I should go home, but it passed. From time to time someone will leave. I really don’t know where we are headed, sitting here day after day with this team of potential travel companions, we discuss the journey but only in code. The staff here in this room is still trying to weed us out, to send us away. I will resist.
I think it finally is my turn. I have been picked to make this trip. I have been preparing for weeks. I have focused on my diet and my mind is working on the task at hand. So many of the extraneous noises and distractions seem to be unimportant now. I keep my mind open and ready to leave at a moments notice. When they call my name I will be ready. It turns out that I need nothing but a positive attitude and willing spirit to go forward. No bags or clothes or special equipment is required. I spent the last few months shedding my mental ties to extraneous objects.
Mediation and determination are my main interests now. I work through the jobs at hand preparing to leave. Sorting through memories and motivation for this journey. I had no idea that this would take so long. Family and friends have come and gone. I know they linger, often hoping I will return with them. They want me to leave the waiting room. But after making such a concerted effort to be here I can see no reason to turn back. I know they love me and want the best for me. The days seem to drag into weeks, an hour like a month. Time is irrelevant. All around me has become a blur. Darkness seems to linger longer now. I lay here in my travel capsule, body and mind prepared, muscles relaxed. I can hear them coming, the count down has started.