Stunned by a Conversation

You might think that by now nothing Kate does could surprise me, but a conversation she had with her sitter yesterday did just that. A few times Mary has mentioned that Kate has been talkative, but this was the first time I was home to get a better idea. I was stunned, not that she was talkative but that she controlled the conversation so well.

Since Kate normally wants to rest after lunch, I assumed that she might nap after Mary arrived. That proved to be wrong. The two of them began to talk as I went to the kitchen to work on my computer. I could hear their voices but wasn’t able to understand what they were saying.

I watched a video of a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution. When it ended an hour later, they were still talking. Kate was clearly taking the lead. The way she asked her questions wasn’t just like they were two friends in conversation. It reminded me of a sympathetic journalist conducting a conversational interview, giving her own thoughts about the issues they discussed.

Twice I walked close to the doorway to get a better idea of what they were saying. I heard Kate ask her about her husband and their relationship. She also talked about our relationship. Kate raised the issue of values, and that led to an exchange over relationships with other people. At one point, Kate asked her about her church. I have no idea what else they discussed, but the total time they talked was an hour and fifty minutes.

I didn’t listen long. It was still hard to follow everything they were saying, but I was struck by Kate’s command of the conversation. She would ask Mary a question, listen to her answer, ask follow-up questions and then express her own thoughts. Kate and I have had a number of somewhat similar conversations. During those, Kate has done the talking, and I was a facilitator. In addition, much of what she has said to me was based on a delusion. Yesterday’s conversation was back and forth more like two friends having a pleasant conversation rooted in reality rather than a delusion. I suspect a person overhearing it might not have recognized that she has Alzheimer’s and certainly not in the last stage. It took me by surprise. I wish I could have heard more clearly. I know she stumbles over her words when she talks. She must have done that, but I didn’t detect any sign of it.

It made me think about the difference in the relationship that she and I have compared to her and Mary. Our relationship is dominated by my role as a caregiver. She looks to me as the person in charge who has the answers to her questions and knows what to do when she is in doubt. It may seem strange, but I think she sees Mary as more of a friend than a caregiver. I like that.

To use an old expression, to me that makes Mary “worth her weight in gold.” Kate no longer has any close friends. They have either died or moved out of town. We get together with other people (at least until covid came along), but couple relationships can be quite different than getting together with a close friend. It is harder for Kate to play a significant role in group conversation. Part of that is because I am more of talkative than she is and generally take the lead. Along with that, Kate looks to me to do just that because it takes the load off her.

I have seen a number of other situations in which Kate has been able to converse easily with another person. She handles herself well and did that with Mary yesterday. She is not always in the mood to talk. It’s been almost three years since Mary became her Wednesday/Friday sitter. To the best of my knowledge yesterday was one of only a handful of times when that coincided with Mary’s being here, but I hope she will have more conversations like this in the future.

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