Wednesday, June 13, 2007

There's Beauty In The Breakdown.

It was still daylight out when I escorted Ophelia to her room to put her to bed. As we entered, I glanced at the photograph posted outside her door to identify the room's occupant. It was a picture of two very different Ophelias: the current, eroded Ophelia standing before a portrait of her thirty-something self. Even her own likeness towered over her, its paint-daubed eyes gleaming with a fierceness that had long been gone from the eyes of the model that inspired them. A laminated sign bearing Ophelia's name was stapled to the wall to guide her to her dwelling, but for Ophelia, there was to be no finding her way back from the wilderness that had swallowed her lucidity.

My plan was to get her changed, toileted and into bed as quickly as possible, but she managed somehow to point her walker toward the living room lined with modern art paintings and classical records. Old people are quicker than you might think. I frustratedly followed her, as there was little chance in stopping her now that she had entered the room- it would simply take too long to explain to her why I wanted her to go to the bedroom.

As she spoke, though, seated in her blue rocking chair, her eyes glittered with a new light. Tonight there was a spark there that I had never seen in her. I tried to put her to bed, plying her with an occasional "Aren't you tired yet, Ophelia?", but my impudent interruptions became fewer as the tales of her life cast their spell on me. Years or moments transpired as she spoke- disjointedly, as dementia patients do, but with a wisdom and spirit that demands respect. I glanced up at the portrait of the young Ophelia hanging on the wall. The dusky, dust-soaked rays of day's last light fell on the painting, highlighting the sharp young woman peering back at me. I turned my attention back to the flesh-and-blood woman before me and though the walker stood a mere few feet away from her trembling, wrinkled figure, she suddenly was not a day older than her portrait.

I decided then that bedtime could wait.

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