With respect to Socrates, my unexamined life is not worth living. The front room is the face we show everyone but we hide our true self in the back room.
Another patient of mine died.
He was more mentally ill than physically ill so this came as quite a shock. With his share of physical issues but healthy enough to live.
I was unprepared for his name to be missing outside his door. The bed stripped clean, the walls once adorned with his artwork now bare, the wheelchair laden with newspaper and potato chip bag clutter.
In our last meeting he had requested some historical information. He was full of memories but was hazy on the details. He hoped the actual facts I dug up would jog his memory. I was ready to tell him what I found out. I knew, as has happened in the past, validating his memory would lift his spirits.
I walked around the corner to see another resident. After a few minutes catching up on her week and her own failing memory she brought him up. Like her, he was a member of the daily activity group, participating in games, songs and crafts. She brought up some fond memories of his generosity and playfulness.
She wrote a letter to him fully expecting to give it to him the next time he came to group. Holding the letter, she looked down, tearful, saying “he’s never going to know what he meant to me”.
I smiled and took her hand. “Of course he knew. The letter is a token, however, given how you said you always appreciated his performances and character and warmth the expression on your face told him enough. Your kind and generous nature is easily understood and he definitely knew the joy he gave others, including you.”
I didn’t tell her that I felt the same way. That I looked forward to seeing him every week, determined to make him laugh or at least smile when he got into his alarmingly rapid downward spiral conversations. Eager every week to hear more about his military history and continents he visited while in the service. Delighted to see another piece of artwork filling his wall space. Careful not to say “you look really good” because he said “whoever says that is a fucking liar and can’t be trusted”.
This is the third patient I’ve lost since starting my work a couple months ago. I expect to lose at least two more before year’s end. This work is full of unfinished business; words unsaid, promises unfulfilled, and actions unseen.
When the past is a mirage and the future is science fiction all we have is the present. We should be authentic to one another. You never know if this time will be the last time.