Death is not a frequent travel companion for those of us who are speech and language therapists, yet there are times when it makes its presence known.
In my current practice, I see two elders with Primary Progressive Aphasia, who, though still active and thriving with the supports of their husbands, are facing relentless decline and death, most likely within a year or two. Each in different ways, they tell me this is true, even as we work some magic to experience successes in language and social activities, or plan ways of staying involved in the lives of people they love. It is difficult for me, this bearing witness to another’s experience.
Harder still is watching someone’s emotional state move him toward, and then actually into a suicide attempt.
Forget that we have done all the right things: the sharing of information with wives and psychiatrists and neurologists, making sure they know what a precipice he is standing on. After today, it is highly likely that he will have an inpatient psychiatric admission. Psychopharmacology, psychotherapy, and even brain stimulation have not altered what seems to him like an inevitable course of action.
Because he can walk, and talk, and even play racquetball, many friends and family do not understand the depth of his loss. They tell him they are sure he will return to work, even though his chosen vocation, highly demanding of verbal and intellectual ability, and for which he has few equals, is now entirely out of reach. His work was his definition of self – his core. And now, it is gone.
I have had only one role for many weeks: validator. He had experienced such relief in having someone reverbalize his statements of loss, and, in that process, acknowledge his right to mourn. The relational therapist must sometimes ingest pain in order to diminish it.
Must the pain then, live in me?