Wednesday, March 14, 2012
At first, my brother and I really struggled with the care facility, despite its homey decor, sunny windows, and nurses and caregivers who my brother and I routinely refer to as "saints." There was a lot of guilt and fear for us, mostly because so much of it was unknown and unfamiliar. But yesterday, I heard my brother laughing as we visited with Mom. Mind you, I haven't heard a lot of laughter the last couple of months and it sounded like Vivaldi. We were seated around a large table, having lunch with Mom and some of the other residents, all of whom have varying degrees of dementia and Alzheimer's. To my left, sat a resident named "Mary" who proceeded to tell me all about World War II and her experience with the Coast Guard. To my brother's right sat a new resident, "Sylvia" who kept asking my brother if he wanted coffee. Between us sat Mom who kept smiling and laughing whenever my brother laughed. Whenever my brother laughed, the rest of the table laughed and smiled too. Then it dawned on me: the place had become less scary because we had finally begun to get to know the other residents. We didn't always hang out in the privacy of my mother's sunny room.
One thing I've learned is that Alzheimer's patients respond to kindness and touch. Hold their hand, listen to their stories, acknowledge them and suddenly the nightmare stops feeling so scary. With my mother, we've learned to cherish her moments of clarity, even as they grow more infrequent. She's still Mom. We can still see who she is in the brightness of her turquoise eyes, regardless of what she says or doesn't say.
When I visit Mom today, I'm actually looking forward to talking again with Mary too, even though she won't remember a single thing we talked about yesterday.