From the doorway I wasn’t even sure I had the right room. This small, frail, pale man was not the man I remembered. I had “freeze framed” Alan. Freeze Framing is a term I use when I speak to Care Partners. It occurs when we take a snapshot of someone’s life and choose to remember them in a certain way, usually how they “used to be.” Typically, it is a picture in our mind when we feel the person was active and vital. Often, it is in great contrast to what is actually before us.
In my mind, I had “freeze framed” Alan as an active man, quiet in nature, and short in stature, yet an icon in his community. Everyone knew him. I remembered this farmer and resort owner with a deep golden tan, piercing blue eyes, and a gentle smile that melted my heart every time I saw him. I remembered this man and his wife Marv sharing stories of their travels. I remembered all of the pictures and mementos they shared with me. I remembered both Al and Marv in their peak — retired, full of zest, yet loving and compassionate.
As I walked closer, I saw a fragile man hooked up to oxygen, lying in bed curled up like a baby. He was pale in color with eyes closed, and he seemed to be peaceful. What had happened to my strong resourceful friend? It was at that point I realized Alan had been like a grandfather to me. A grandpa I never had. Forty years of stories and hugs, love and laughter.
I pulled a chair next to his bed and told him who I was. Then I leaned in for a hug and kiss. Alan’s eyes slowly opened and I saw those gorgeous baby blues as he looked into my eyes. He puckered up for our kiss just like old times. I sat down and held his hand and we talked for over an hour.
I was amazed and humbled by how this fragile man came to life in my presence. What a gift it was for me to spend time with him. I told Alan all the things I remembered. As I talked, he lay in bed beaming with pride. He told me, “I always thought you were pretty special too.” My heart melted once again with the love I hold for this man.
Please know that caring for someone is not so much about your comfort but theirs. Try to live in the moment, recognizing and appreciating the past for what it was. Try hard to recognize when you are trying to make someone be that which they no longer can be. When we do this, we are making things about us and our comfort level, not theirs. Try it for yourself and then write me back and tell me what your experience was like.