Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A woman named Elsa

Back in the early days, before I had kids of my own, I worked as a CNA in a nursing home.

Lately I've been thinking about one lady in particular. Elsa, we called her. She looked like she had been a beauty at one point. Her hair still long and wavy, white as snow. Elsa was dependant on her aides. Immobile, limbs frozen, hands clenched tight. She was also in the throws of dementia.

Elsa couldn't speak, but you couldn't mistake the absolute panic in her eyes. Terror, as if she could speak she would tell of all her grief. She would take to fits of rage, gutteral sounds, crying. This went on for weeks. No one could calm Elsa. Not her aides, nurses, or even the Haldol the doctors prescribed.

Elsa didn't have any family that visited her. A lonely, decidely crazy old lady living out her latter years in a place that was unfamiliar and scary. We tried to calm her, tried to engage her. Nothing doing. She became combatant and though she was old, she was STRONG.

One night, while I was charting, I looked through her history and there it was. Elsa had had a stillborn baby. The nurses and I decided, and we were really at our wits end here, to buy Elsa a baby doll.

When presented with the baby, Elsa lit up. Her limbs relaxed. Her eyes softened, and she rocked and crooned to this tiny plastic dolly. From then on, as long as Elsa had her baby, she was a different woman.

Such a nice happy ending, but the real point is, this woman in her dementia was reliving her grief for her dead child. In having this doll, she could mother the child she had mourned for so long.

I often wonder what became of her. I know she couldn't have lived much longer. I hope she was able to reconcile her grief. I hope she was happy for a moment. I hope that as a young and ignorant aide, I was able to help Elsa.

And now I feel her pain. I feel her grief. The difference is I'm able to speak out about it. To grieve out loud. I grieve for Leta, yes. I also grieve for all those women, past and present that aren't able to talk about it, aren't encouraged and supported to feel the grief. Because the feeling of it, as awful as it is, the feeling is paramount to our recovery. There will be beauty from this pain. There will be a rainbow. Elsa showed me that.

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