I reached Don as he was leaving the hospital. “No,” he said, in response to my question of: did she make it. I didn’t need a question mark after the statement. There was no question about surviving a cardiac resuscitation on the dementia unit of a nursing home.
Martha was a serial caregiver. She took care of her parents on a sliding scale, first her father while her mother was still in charge, and then barely taking a breath, she took care of her mother who really didn't need much at first.
Without knowing it at the time Mark became his mother's caregiver when his grandmother died and his mother’s job as caregiver therefore ended. He moved up closer, one potential rung, by family example. Back then it was just a reminder, nothing to the job description yet, after all he had an older sister and Mark's mother took care of herself.
It's not like the experience of caregiving goes away when it ends, and it always ends. No matter that the position has been closed with its exact and delineated daily, weekly, monthly, or “as needed” caregiving tasks, the impact endures. Some post-caregivers grieve exclusively; others are primarily relieved. More often than not grief and relief fit tightly in the same moment.
Grooming was relatively optional for Leonard. I was always surprised when he cared about his appearance. Occasionally, he might ask the color of his shirt and if it matched the pants, or if he looked good enough to go to church or a birthday party. I actually thought he used grooming as a bargaining point, but I’m not sure what he was bargaining for besides one last item of control. Occasionally I would remind him that he had three days beard growth. Sometimes I teased him about a soon-to-be pony tail, “a little long in the back.”
I have no insight as to why sometimes I miss her deeply, and its totally OK at others. It’s none of the things you identified for yourself, like a possession. It’s not a place, like for Michael, not Sherry's intense photos, and definitely not strangers, like the silly chick from hospice.