Two weeks ago at the care center I noticed that Albert wasn't around to wave at me using just his little index finger, but I didn't give it too much thought because it's not unusual for someone to miss a meal due to illness. When he wasn't there again last week I started to worry, but couldn't get any information because the two regular nurses were on vacation and their replacements not only didn't know Albert, they didn't know anyone. By default I became leader of the pack, directing portable dinners to their proper owners because the replacement nurses didn't know who was who and would have taken forever trying to read each resident's name on their ID bracelets to make sure each got the proper meal. So I pointed to Gerhard and motioned toward Eileen and cautioned that Mary couldn't have coffee with her meal. I was too busy trying to make sure everyone got fed to really take note of Albert's absence.
Tonight when I arrived for dinner duty, Kollie the nurse was back. I was relieved to see him, knowing that everything would go much more smoothly with him on the job. He was sitting and chatting (as much as anyone can) with Gudrun, waiting for the meal delivery from the kitchen. We reconnected and I told him about last week when I was in charge by virtue of nobody else being able to do it. Kollie was pretty impressed and I was happy about that. Then I meekly looked over at the spot at the table where Albert usually sits and asked quietly, "Where's Albert?" Kollie replied in a low, forlorn voice, "Oh, Albert died. Yeah, he died." I asked how old he was but Kollie could only hazard a guess that he had been in his 70s or 80s. I felt sad for Albert, knowing I would miss his messy bed head and large eyes spaced far apart on his ruddy face, giving him the appearance of a really cute alien. I could tell he had once, long ago, been very handsome, and he had retained that sparkle in his blue eyes that many of the residents relinquished long ago. He was always just a little angry that his meal hadn't arrived yet and liked to call other folks sons-of-bitches and to use other mild profanity. It only made me like him even more. Standing there looking at his empty chair today, I felt sad that Albert was gone and that I would never wave at him from my table and receive his piercing look and tiny finger wave back, but I couldn't help but believe he's in a better spot now. Earth is no place for people suffering the awful fate of dementia. Hopefully, wherever Albert is right now, somewhere beyond, he's swearing up a storm and waving at cute girls with just his little index finger.