In parts 1,2, and 3, I wondered how this would end. I worried about my brother. All I had ever wanted was for him to have a little happiness. I wanted him to find peace, a way to accept life on its own terms.
On Mother's Day, I was just sitting down to lunch when my niece texted me to get to the hospital. After I arrived and I saw my sister-in-law and nephew in the waiting area, my heart broke. I learned Jerry had had multiple strokes and had developed a condition known as Vascular Dementia, which are strokes in the brain in the area of critical thinking and communication.
Stroke is such a random thing. With Jerry, the right side of his face drooped and he couldn't stand or walk. I could not imagine my brother wanting to survive this, but by the following day, his body had improved. His face regained muscle tone and he could speak, but most of what he said was gibberish.
3 weeks later.
Three weeks later and Jerry seems to know us when we visit but if you go back the following day he doesn’t remember you were there. There was one incident last Tuesday when his son took him out to dinner. The following day, Jerry remembered Adam and he remembered eating a hamburger. Hope continues to haunt me.
During this last meeting with Jerry's therapists, my husband asked the group if it was possible for Jerry's memories to return. They said it might be possible, but generally, there is little in the way of recovery. I, on the other hand, am always looking for my brother to peep through this new person and sometimes I come home with great hope. I try to keep my feet on the ground but it's hard. I cannot imagine life without him.
The smiling face of innocence.
Today, Jerry Wertenberger, Vietnam vet and MP sentry dog handler with the 981st company, Vietnam, son, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, and brother, has little memory. His ghosts are finally dead and the aides say that whenever they see him he has a smile on his face. I know this grin. It is the one I remember best from my childhood. Unfortunately, it took the annihilation of his memories for it to return.
The other day, I asked him to name his sentry dog. He didn’t know, but he knew he was in the 981st company. He remembers the Baylands Raceway, but not what kind of car he raced. Vascular Dementia is a hard road to walk with a loved one yet he is still my brother. Instead of our shared memories, we have today. In some strange way, I am OK with this. I love seeing him smile, and wherever his mind is right now, he is happy. When I visit, we review family pictures together. I’ve put some into a frame and it hangs just across from his bed. The grandkids and nieces color pictures and I’ve taped them to his bathroom door so he can see them.
Stands without help.
His therapist explained to me that his body moves faster than his mind. He can stand without help and will walk away without his walker, bringing danger to himself. He doesn’t realize what he’s doing, he doesn’t even think about what he’s doing. He just does it and that, she thinks, may never change.
The work continues with the Veterans Administration. The army has a review board and can modify discharges. It is to them my niece and nephew have petitioned. With all the troubles in the VA, I wonder if my brother will have access to his benefits before he passes. I find myself wondering what trauma he endured that forced him to refuse life-saving medication. I cannot help but wonder why he wanted to die when I wanted him so badly to live. I can’t even imagine the reason. Now, I will never know.
On this Memorial Day, I will spend the day with him. I will remind him of who I am and who he is. I admit there is a part of me that hopes if his memories return, they will be only good ones. I will kiss his cheek and say, "You are my hero, my brother, and friend, but most of all, you are the bravest person I have ever known. Thank you for your service." #Foreign Policy #war #military