I did not know Gil when he was a medal-winning Captain in the US Army with many soldiers under his command. I did not know him as a father to Glenn and Jaime. I met him only in recent years when he was a day club member at Arbor Rose. He greeted everyone with a smile and when asked how he was doing,he always answered "I'm here."
I knew him as he entered Building 5 as a well-liked resident who loved to eat and to drink Coca-Cola, his own or his neighbor's and when he transferred to the memory care unit where my husband resides.
I knew him as a gentle giant who towered above us as he walked and walked and walked the path around the unit outside and inside, visiting as many rooms as he could and enjoying whatever snacks or caps he acquired along the way. Gil loved wearing caps; he was the star of building 7, beloved of staff and of the female residents who loved to walk with him, and fought with each other to hold his hand and sit by his side on the leather love-seat or next to him at the dining table. They saw what a handsome man he was and how kind and accepting of their admiration. As Gil stopped walking and attracting attention, the unit has become a much quieter, less vibrant space, but even in the last final weeks and months, he would look directly at each one of us who greeted him and his bright eyes would still say "I'm here."
We spouses become attached to the residents and to their caregivers who we meet each day when we visit our own spouses or parent; we exchange information or tidbits of quirky behavior, of positive and negative developments in the lives of our loved ones, staff changes and the small issues that arise. We support each other and look after other spouses as well as our own, especially if someone is absent for an illness or a vacation. We visitors help out if there is a crisis on the unit, setting the table for dinner or handing the plates of food to the residents.
It was difficult for me as I drove to the unit today. I knew I would not see Gil's wife Sue's white car as I scanned the parking lot. I knew the door to his room would remain shut for a week to let the staff mourn and adjust before assigning another resident. I empathize with the pain of loss his family is experiencing now and I don't know when that process will begin for us.