Despite many challenges that accompany Kate’s Alzheimer’s, I attempt to communicate that we also experience Happy Moments. I believe I’ve been successful in that, but some experiences can also be described by other adjectives. One of those occurred two days ago. It was “touching” for me, her caregiver, and a friend who had dropped by to say hello. Let me explain.
Kate is a member (now inactive) of P.E.O., a women’s organization that supports educational needs of women. Kate is a former president of her chapter and has always liked and been impressed with another woman who preceded her as president. Several years ago, we bumped into her in the lobby of a local movie theater. We were leaving as they walked in. After chatting briefly, Kate said, “Who is that? I recognize her, but I don’t know who she is. I liked her.” I thought that was a beautiful example of the loss of her rational abilities and the strength of her intuitive ones. The feeling she had for the woman had clearly stuck with her.
Yesterday, she stopped by to say hello on her way to meet a neighborhood bridge group. I was pleased that Kate was awake early and in a cheerful mood. When the friend arrived, I took her into the living room to talk with her. It had been a long time since she had seen Kate, and I wanted to update her and let her know that she might not recognize her. In fact, shortly before I had told Kate she was coming, and she had no idea who I was talking about. Nothing I said rang a bell.
Kate was in bed. I entered ahead of her friend and explained that she had a surprise guest who had come to see her. The friend walked to her bedside, and Kate responded like the Kate I’ve always known as a welcoming host to her home, one of the things passed down from her mother. With a big smile (something else she got from her mother), Kate reached out her hand, and her friend took it. Then Kate took her other hand and stroked the top of her friend’s hand.
She asked the friend to sit down on the bed beside her. That began a ten-minute conversation between the two of them. Kate’s words didn’t come out the way she would have wanted, but she communicated a sense of recognition and love for her friend. While they talked, I wiped tears from my eyes just observing the poise and feeling that Kate conveyed to her friend. There have been many other occasions when I hoped she could respond in the same way to a friend or to our daughter and son, but she couldn’t. Had it not been for her being in bed and getting her words mixed up, she would have been just like always.
I’ve heard and read accounts of other caregivers who have observed surprising experiences like this with their own loved ones. This was not the first time she has surprised me with things she has said or done, but this was the most touching I have witnessed. It comes during a week when she has gotten along particularly well.
It was an opportune time for her friend to visit, but there was more to it than that. The friend was very calm in demeanor and tone of voice. She spoke slowly and in short sentences. Most importantly, her words also conveyed an interest in Kate. I believe one of the problems Kate has is feeling left out because so much of the conversation around her is among the other people who are present. I think that is because people don’t know what to say to someone with dementia.
We caregivers are always trying to understand why our loved ones say or do things, but what is most important is that we treasure moments like these. I will hold on to this one for a long time.