By Rick Hinton
Death will claim us all at some point. It will be the end of one journey and the start of quite another. We may have regrets over a seemingly life-less-lived or have none at all; each person is different. Some may pass quickly and unexpectedly, while others become hostages to their bodies as they linger with illnesses, deteriorating the person they once were. Dementia and Alzheimer’s is a journey all its own and is ultimately devastating in the end. With these conditions, the lucid moments become few and far between. However, when they do come, we cherish every minute.
Southsider Jerry Bennett, a friend and publisher of my books, dealt with the decline of his wife, Winona’s health. As her sole home care giver he ultimately had to place her in several nursing facilities, beginning in 2012. Winona Bennett – a longtime advocate of nursing home reform resulting from residents being left in the shadows rather than being stimulated and challenged – had just a few years earlier put together a small army of volunteers and organizations to support this endeavor. Yet as it turned out, she herself became a resident, and with a mindset, as Jerry stated: “One to give care and not to receive it.”
For the next three years Jerry became a daily fixture at his wife’s bedside. For him it was a labor of love. There were good days and also days not so good. There were the lucid moments that transcended any illness, past or present. Those were the good days. And there was the support of friends, one in particular acknowledging their historical passage as husband and wife – “Jerry and Winona were the cutest couple.” On that day, Winona simply stated to Jerry seated at her bedside: “You know, being married to you has been fun.” He will always treasure that statement.
On July 10, 2015, at 6:26 p.m., Winona passed on into another adventure.
When it’s our time we seem to know. On that last evening Jerry was preparing for his daily walk when Winona told him, “Don’t leave right now, stay with me just a little longer.” He did. Winona knew it was her time. Shortly thereafter she was gone. My own mother, though unconscious, waited for my brother to arrive from Florida. I was already with her.
Are our departed loved ones ever really gone? My aunt in Kentucky messaged the other day with a question. A red cardinal had for the past few days taken a position on a rail just outside the window of her TV room. “Does that mean anything?” she asked. I did some research. It can be a representative of someone who has passed, meaning they are visiting. They usually show up when you most need them or miss them. Jerry has seen no cardinals, yet sometimes it’s something else. …
A couple of weeks after Winona’s passing Jerry had a dream. They say that dreams are answers to questions yet asked. In the dream was Winona, and references to not only their life together, but also her recent illness and decline. Jerry feels it was a personal message: there would be no more nursing home, wheelchair, no restrictions. She was free of all that and beginning her next journey. Jerry stated, “She looked good.” There was a sense of finality to the dream.
“She was there to let me go.”