Before, during, and after lunch yesterday, Kate was quite talkative. Not just talkative but engaging in conversation that might surprise someone who knows that she has Alzheimer’s and that her diagnosis was over eight years ago. Even I was a bit surprised. It began in the car when I played a Louis Armstrong album, What a Wonderful World. I said, ‘Isn’t it ironic that he sang that song while most of his life he couldn’t even stay in the same hotels where white celebrities stayed.” She asked why, and I explained about segregation. That led to a conversation about the civil rights movement. I knew she couldn’t remember any details, but she did have a recollection of that period of time and had strong feelings about it. She couldn’t understand why life was so segregated. We talked about the integration of public schools and how frightened the first black children must have felt as they entered their new schools. She said, “We’ve come a long way, but there is still a long way to go.”
At the restaurant I ordered the same salad I get every Saturday. It has mixed greens that I like, but yesterday it was different. It was overwhelmingly one particular type. The good news was it was one I like. One of the first times I had the salad I asked our server what it was. She didn’t know and asked several other staff who didn’t know either. Yesterday we had a new server. I asked her if she knew what it was. She didn’t and said she would ask the kitchen staff. Before she got back with their answer (No.), I googled types of greens and thought it might be endive. Then I googled “pictures of endive.” Bingo! That was it.
That led to another brief conversation. I said, “That’s a good illustration of how many things we don’t know, but we encounter every day.” That made me think about the curiosity of little children and how quickly they learn about the world around them. I mentioned that to Kate, and she agreed. Then she went on to talk about how children touch or pick up things that are new to them. She also talked about their asking questions of their parents. It was fascinating to listen to her. Her memory for names and places is virtually gone, but she clearly retains a memory for some general patterns of behavior like those of children. It’s no wonder that people with dementia can get along for such a long time before others recognize the problem.
On the way home, she kidded me about something. Then she said, “I think I’ve been around you too long.” She obviously remembered that I joke a good bit. I said, “Do you know how long?” She didn’t. I said, “In two months it will be fifty-six years since we married, and we dated a year and a half before then.” She said, “And I still love you.” I said, “And I love you.” There was a pause as I thought about the fact that she hadn’t asked my name since she got up. I rarely test her, but I said, “And I bet you remember my name.” It was her time to think. She finally gave up and said, “What is it?” I said, “Richard.” Then she said, “Richard Lee Creighton.” It isn’t often that my first name is all the prompt she needs to get the rest of my name, but it worked this time.
In our conversations, I see what Kate can (intuitive abilities) and can’t do (rational abilities). I am grateful that we derive so much pleasure from the intuitive ones.