I don’t recall exactly when Kate and I began eating out for lunch and dinner. It was at least eight years ago, perhaps longer. In January, it will be nine years since her diagnosis. I was still working then, but I started taking Kate to lunch almost every day. For our evening meals I prepared a meal at home or brought in something from a nearby restaurant.
I soon tired of fixing dinner and cleaning up afterwards. The meals themselves didn’t seem special. That’s when I decided to eat out for all our lunches and dinners. I was motivated by convenience and a desire to concentrate on having a good time with Kate. As I learned long ago, change brings about unintended consequences. Yes, I did find it easier to eat out than to prepare or bring something in, but that turns out to be a smaller part of the story. What I discovered is that eating out became not only a time for Kate and me; it became a moment of social engagement that has been a lifeline from the very beginning.
As a result of our going to the same restaurants on a weekly basis, we have come to know the servers, hostesses, and other personnel. Just as important, they have come to know us. From the beginning, I informed them of Kate’s Alzheimer’s. This was long before I had my printed Alzheimer’s cards. I wanted them to be aware so that they would understand if they ever noticed something that might seem a bit strange.
Much is written about caregivers and their need for support. Earlier this week, I saw a Tweet that indicated that 74% of caregivers never ask for help. I understand that; I’m not prone to ask for help myself.
I’ve also read about the importance of a caregiver’s “building a team of support.” That caused me to reflect on our own situation. I had never thought about doing that for Kate and me, but that is exactly what has developed because of eating out. Yes, it consists of many short-term interactions and is not like the long-standing relationship of close friends. However, it provides a good bit of support and not just to me as a caregiver, but to Kate as well. We experienced a good example of that yesterday at lunch.
A month ago, the young woman who had served us the past three years for our Saturday lunch left her job for another one. We continue to go to the same restaurant and are getting good service, but I have missed the one with whom we had gotten so well-acquainted. Last week, I sent her a text and invited her to be out guest at one of our other restaurant. I didn’t know when I asked her, but it turned out to be her birthday.
We had a nice conversation under more leisurely conditions than when she was serving us. She has always given a lot of attention to Kate and did so again yesterday. I was careful to seat Kate directly across from her to make that easier than if I had been seated there. I’ve done this on several other occasions and sense that it makes a difference.
I made reservations and requested a server that has taken care of us frequently. When I introduced her to our guest, I mentioned that she had been our server at another restaurant. That opened the door to a little conversation between the two of them. The obviously shared a number of things in common.
The big surprise came after we had finished our meal. I told our server I knew we wanted a dessert since it was our guest’s birthday. I expected that she would bring the dessert menu. Instead, she came back with two desserts, a crème brûlée cheesecake with a candle and a large chocolate cake with raspberry filling between the layers. She said she had bought the cake especially for Kate who was touched and broke into tears of joy. Then the server left and brought a beautiful potted plant for her. Nothing could have been better. We have added that to Kate’s other flowering plants in our family room and on the patio where she can enjoy it every day.
It was a beautiful way to end our meal. It was also a reminder of how kind people can be. Incidentally, this was the same restaurant where some anonymous person paid for our meals two weeks ago and where that same server had brought her mother in to meet us. None of the restaurant personnel think of themselves as playing a role as members of our “support team,” but they are and have been. It really makes a difference in our lives and is just one other example of how fortunate we have been.