During his last two weeks of life, he began having a series of strokes that weakened his already frail body and magnified his dementia. In between episodes, he was confused, but parts of his psyche were as strong as ever.
The nurses sat him up in a chair each day, strapping him in, both for his protection and to keep him from escaping. He really wanted to escape. They had intricate ways of knotting the straps, but he figured them out each time.
One day he asked where his clothes were. His wife, who was very good at managing his dementia-related anxiety, brought them out and showed him. That satisfied him for a while. Then he asked, “Where are my shoes?!” She brought them out and showed him, and then allowed him to put them on. This occupied him for a long time, which was another way to help offset his anxiety and confusion.
On the final day of his life, after another stroke and continued weakening of his body, he was transferred to a hospice facility. There was no way he could come back from all that was happening, and his family knew he would not want any further life-saving measures to be taken. He was 85 years old, and his journey was nearing its natural end.
Late that night, after getting settled into his new room, he asked the nurse, “Where are my shoes? I need to get back home.” Within hours, he must have found them, because he died before his first sunrise in the room where everyone thought he would live out his final days in comfort.
He had accepted the challenges of his journey with grace, but in the end, his take-charge spirit led him back to where his life began. And for this man who never went barefooted in his life, he couldn’t go without his shoes.
*NOTE: The nurse who cared for him in his few hours in hospice, said people often ask for their shoes right before they die. What a beautiful symbol that is. At some level in our deepest selves, perhaps we all know when our next journey is about to begin.