Yesterday, as we were about to leave for lunch, I received a call from our pastor asking if we had lunch plans. Despite the fact that we were going straight from the restaurant to a hair appointment for Kate and then drive to Nashville, I invited him to join us. That is probably a good indication of how important social contact is for us. Otherwise, I would have told him we were on a tight schedule and arrange another time. I made the right decision.
Not surprisingly, Kate did not remember him when I told her he was coming. She took it nonchalantly with no expression of excitement or reluctance. We had already taken our seats before he arrived. When he saw us, he walked over and greeted Kate. She called him by the wrong name. He gave her his correct name and said, “That’s all right. I get called lots of things. You can call me whatever you want.” That began a beautiful conversation that went on for over an hour before we had to leave.
Kate was in one of her talkative moods, and our pastor is a good facilitator. She was immediately very comfortable. In fact, she was “unleashed.” Early on I mentioned something about his being our pastor. She was surprised. She looked at him and said, “You are? I didn’t know that.” That was one of many things she said that were clear signs of her Alzheimer’s. She had to ask lots of questions to understand what he and I said. Many of them involved the definition of words that we used. Her aphasia is definitely becoming more pronounced.
There were two things I especially liked about our time together. One is that she was on equal footing with the two of us in the conversation. In fact, she may have talked more than either of us. Another is that she conveyed so well what she is like as a person as well as a person with Alzheimer’s. I don’t recall our ever having been in a social situation where she has been this way before. I attribute that heavily to our pastor. She was very comfortable with him and even said so. I don’t recall her words at all, but she took two or three minutes to comment on his ability to put people at ease.
The conversation illustrated her heightened emotional state. Our pastor said something very early about some of the mass shootings that have occurred around the country. Kate was very sad and in tears. When the conversation drifted to our relationship, she noted that we are a team and work together well. She wanted to convey how fortunate we have been and couldn’t think of the word she wanted. Our pastor said, “Blessed?” She said, “Yes, we’re blessed.” That led her to say, “I wish everyone could have what we have.” She was in tears again.
We also talked about several members we thought had made special contributions to our church. The pastor looked directly at Kate and said, “And you are one of those people.” He went on to talk about her nineteen years of volunteer service as the church librarian. That brought more tears.
When we got to the car, the first words that Kate spoke were, “I feel happy.” I said, “I do too.” It was a beautiful experience in which she got to be a significant part of the conversation, and, amidst the stumbles she made because of her Alzheimer’s, she was able to convey the depth of her insight even now. It was a very special time for me. It was another “Happy Moment” for us.
It was a good example of Kate’s intuitive abilities. Although our conversation included factual information that she didn’t fully understand, we talked largely about our feelings about our lives as well as the people and world around us. That is something she can still understand. She was quite open about her feelings. She even responded negatively to our pastor when he tried to pay her a compliment. I don’t remember what he said, but she thought he was criticizing me. She quickly responded and said, “Don’t you say that about him.”
It was also an illustration of the way someone can put her at ease. She connected quickly with him. I had seated her so that he and Kate were directly across from each other. I think that helped. The key factor, however, was the way he related to her. From the outset, he made her feel she was an equal partner in the conversation. She knew he was listening to her.
I think most people are a bit unsure about how they can best relate to someone with dementia. The easiest thing is to hold back. I was reminded of two other successful encounters we have had with Twitter friends of mine. When I introduced Kate to them, they immediately gave their attention to her. That made Kate comfortable and led to a very good conversations. It strikes me that this is a good way to begin with anyone we meet, not just someone with dementia.