From her chair in the living room, she knew something was wrong because the sound she was hearing just wasn't right, as if the door was open or something, which it could be, she thought, because maybe her husband hadn't thought of closing it. She swung her legs from the hassock, reached for her cane, pushed herself up from the chair, and took those first slow steps toward the bathroom, where things just didn't sound right.
And she was right--he hadn't shut the door. But that wasn't all of it either. When she got into the bedroom, she realized that he'd not only forgotten to shut the outside door, he'd also forgotten the curtain behind him, and when, finally, she was able to get past the edge of the bed, she saw him standing there under the shower all right, but she also saw that the water was gushing, really, into her bathroom, all over the floor.
It was all she could do to get there. Yelling was something she really couldn't do anymore, something she left behind like so many other things, so she hurried into the bathroom herself rather than try to yell and walk at the same time. And she shouldn't have hurried because when her shaky feet hit the slippery tile of the bathroom, she went down--not badly either. She knew immediately it hadn't been a bad fall, not like some falls people suffer in the home, but it was bad enough. She could feel the pain in her hip, and she knew that's where the problem would be, and that the pain and the break or whatever would mean hospitalization, and there was no way her husband, standing there in the shower, the curtain wide open, could be alone.
So there she lay on the floor, unable to get up, her husband naked as a baby in the shower, probably wondering just exactly what he was doing there, she thought.
She tried to yell above the stream of water, but she couldn't. So she simply had to wait, there, on the floor of the bathroom, sprawled out like a child, watching her husband trying to figure out what he was doing in the shower.
When he turned, finally, and saw her there, he was dumbfounded. Some time ago, already, he'd lost the ability to think the problem through--just exactly what he had to do with his wife at his feet, sprawled on a bathroom floor that was rapid flooding. He couldn't do a thing. It was as if he was paralyzed. He had no idea what to do, standing there on a wet floor with his own wife lying at his feet.
It took some time before people found them there, the two of them, just one old couple in the home.
We have the single bed that their children had moved in to that bedroom for their father. It was clear, after the incident, that she was unable to care for her husband anymore, that he had to go to a place where he could receive the level of care and supervision he needed, care she simply couldn't give the man she lived with for 68 years.
It wasn't easy for my wife to find an adult, single bed. This one was a Godsent, the only one in town. We bought the bedsted too, and the frame, and the sheets and mattress pad. We bought everything because the children of the old man with Alzheimer's had moved him down the road to more comprehensive care. They didn't need the bed anymore, that bed they'd owned for only three weeks.
And what we told ourselves last night when the whole deal was through was what an incredible blessing it was to be able to secure not only a adult, full-length, single bed for my father-in-law, but all the necessary accessories.
For about a week now, the old man in the shower hasn't complained, hasn't pleaded with his children to take him home from his new digs. He didn't want to be alone in this new home, the one without his wife. He didn't know exactly where he was, but he knew he wasn't home.
But that fear or whatever is gone now, one of his sons told us. It's done. When he visits his father, his father doesn't beg to come home. He just smiles.
Small blessings. Like that bed the old man slept in for three weeks. Small blessings.
From the collection: November 16, 2007