Kate and the Joy of the Holiday Season

As I write this morning, Christmas is less than two weeks away, and I am feeling joyful.

It’s been years since Kate and I have bought presents for each other, but we always celebrate the holiday and our love for each other. Although our decorations are up, and we’re playing lots of Christmas music, she doesn’t recognize that Christmas is near and certainly can’t think about presents; however, she has already given me several. They’re not the material kind; however, like the MasterCard commercial, they are “priceless.”

I mentioned the first of those in my previous post. For the first time in just over two years, we had dinner together alone (without a caregiver) in the main dining room of our retirement community. Kate was cheerful and talkative. It was a very special moment for both of us. That was a week ago this past Sunday night. Since then, she’s given me two other equally priceless moments. Let me tell you about them with a brief preface for each.

This last stage of Kate’s Alzheimer’s is the most challenging for us. Kate experiences more delusions that disturb her than she did in earlier stages. I also find that some of the things that I depended on to help me in the past no longer work or work as well as they once did. Her family photobooks are a good example. Another is my reading to her. There was a time when she loved The Velveteen Rabbit, and I loved reading it to her. Her interest in the book has dwindled over the past year, but she surprised me a few nights ago.

We were in bed with the TV tuned to an NFL game (for me) with the sound muted and Christmas music playing on my audio system (for both of us). We were holding hands and talking when she said, “What can I do?” (She says something like this occasionally, and I don’t have trouble understanding why. She is now in what home health providers refer to as “Total Care.” That means a caregiver must take care of all her needs. She can’t do anything on her own. Although she can’t remember names, places, events, or how to do things, her senses are alive. She sees people around her who are doing things. It must be very discouraging not to be able to do anything for herself.)

I suggested a couple of things, and she said something about reading. I asked if she would like me to read something to her. She indicated she would, and I pulled out The Velveteen Rabbit from the top drawer of the bedside table.

She didn’t remember the book, and I told her it was one that we had both enjoyed in the past. I’ve read it to her many times but have always recognized that she can’t grasp the plot and can’t understand many of the specific things that occur. To counter those obstacles, I read it in a very animated way to capture the feelings conveyed by the text.

I caught her at a perfect time. From the very beginning, she was engaged. It’s always been a favorite of hers, but she has never responded more enthusiastically. She responded audibly to at least one part of every page. I wish that I had recorded it. When I came to the end, I said what I always say, “Thank you for letting me read this. I love this story.” She said, “Me, too. I’ve got tears in my eyes.” I said, “I do too,” and I did.

The next gift came over the weekend. A number of our church friends live in our retirement community. We often see one of those, a 93-year-old ”live wire,” who buzzes around the hallways on her motorized wheelchair. Soon after we moved in, she told us she wanted to come to our apartment to read a Christmas story to Kate in December. She has reminded us of that many times over the preceding months. Late Friday afternoon, she sent me a text message asking if she could come by Saturday afternoon. That was a good time for us, and I accepted her offer. I thought about warning our friend that I couldn’t predict how Kate would respond but decided against it. As it turned out, Kate rose to the occasion.

So did our friend who wore a brightly decorated Christmas vest and a small Christmas tree atop the cap on her head along with a script of The Night Before Christmas. She pulled up a chair directly in front of and very close to Kate who was in her wheelchair. Then she read the story in a very dramatic way. Kate kept her eyes closed, but she was very attentive and the expressions on her face let us know that she was enjoying all of it.

When she finished reading, our friend suggested we sing something, so we sang “Deck the Halls” and “Silent Night.” Kate joined in softly. At the end of the last verse, our friend and I had tears of joy in our eyes. Kate didn’t, but she did applaud. It was another beautiful moment.

So, although this could be a depressing time in a joyful season, Kate herself is a “gift that keeps on giving.” That says a lot about someone at this stage of Alzheimer’s, and explains why I’m feeling joyful.