A Soul Behind the Words

She was bipolar.  I knew her when she lived in the nursing home. When she was manic she would request to see me and then talk nonstop the whole time I visited.  She told me she needed to write a book about her life because people needed to know about her. I think she tried to tell me the entire content of her book each time I visited, but it came out incoherent:

“When I was a kid we always… And I had a dog…… I once had the prettiest dress… What was her name? At school I was the best at…On Sundays, my mother always made… I think everyone will want to read this, don’t you?…”

She never wanted me to go.  If I said I was leaving and leaned forward to stand up, she would talk faster and more frantically until I sat back in my chair.  Then she would slow down but never stop.  Finally, when I really had to leave, I would stand up while she talked, step away while she talked, open the door while she talked, and walk out while she talked.  Once she screamed my name repeatedly as I walked down the hall away from her room . 

I continued to visit her because I loved her and I could sympathize with her wanting to reach out to make herself known.  I’ve spent my life listening and trying to understand what people are saying, but a conversation with her would exhaust me.

One time I tried something different where I practiced a kind of mindfulness with her.  I got quiet as her chatter picked up the tempo and instead of listening hard to suss out what she was saying, I tuned it all out and tried to imagine connecting with the real person trapped behind the illness. The faster she talked, the stiller I became, not just with my body but in my mind.  At one point I reached out and took her hand. 

“See the person behind the words,” I told myself.

And two souls sat together. One was unable to stay silent while the other kept watch as both of us reached out to each other.

When it came time to leave, she was still talking.  But as I stood up she interrupted herself to say…. “You are so handsome!”

And then she was quiet.

I patted her cheek and promised to come see her again soon.   

I once had a Native American friend tell me that his spirit could talk to the spirits of other people. I wonder if that’s what I was doing.  Or is it enough to simply recognize the deepest part of a person that exists behind the words?

She never wrote her book. She left behind some scribblings which were often strewn around her room, looking similar to my study, come to think of it. But it is important that she lived, that she mattered, and that she was known. 

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