Feeling Joyful This Holiday Season

The Christmas season has always been special for Kate and me. Our first date was sixty-one years ago on December 19, 1961. We celebrate that day every year. Some years we have taken trips to New York City and several places in Europe. Mostly, our celebrations have been simple. For us, that is usually going out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants.

For the past three years, it’s been impossible for us to get away from our home without the assistance of an ambulance or wheelchair-accessible van, but that hasn’t kept us from experiencing “Happy Moments.” This year those moments have seemed especially rewarding. That’s because they have become more frequent during the past few months. We celebrated the 61st anniversary quietly as we do every day. We had ice cream in the afternoon and dinner in the dining room chatting with residents and staff in both locations. Recently, however, we have experienced several other happy moments. Here are a couple of examples that occurred in the past few days.

I returned home from lunch on Saturday and entered our apartment with my customary greeting, “Hello, I’m home.” As I approached Kate in her recliner, I could see that she was smiling. She doesn’t always respond that way when I come home, but it does occur frequently.

I walked over to her, got down on my knees, and told her how happy I was to see her and her beautiful smile. Her caregiver said she had been talking. Very quickly, I got to hear that for myself. We spent the next forty-five minutes in an animated conversation. As usual, I couldn’t understand most of what she said, but there were bits of clarity sprinkled among the gibberish.

Things were going well, and I asked Kate if she would like me to read something to her. She did, and I picked up a resolution our church had given to her when she retired after nineteen years as our volunteer librarian. She used to love listening as I read it. In the past couple of years, she’s been less interested. This time she was engaged from the first sentence to the last.

After that, she looked like she was getting tired. I thought I might perk her up if I showed her some photos I had taken on our 50th anniversary trip to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. We used to look at our photo books regularly, but she lost interest a few years ago. Because she was in such a good mood, I thought I might have some success. I was wrong. She wasn’t interested at all. Our happy moment had ended.

Not long after that, it was time for our afternoon trip for ice cream. She hadn’t warmed up at all when we reached the café. Several people spoke to her, but she didn’t respond. Then another resident stopped for a few minutes. As she was about to leave, she said something to Kate who responded with a smile. That was the first sign of cheerfulness we had seen since she had lost interest in the photos I had shown her.

We soon went to dinner. As usual, we were the first ones in the dining room, and several of the dining room staff dropped by to say hello. She returned to her cheerful self and remained that way until she drifted off to sleep that night.

This experience is a good example of our quickly Kate’s mood can change. It’s also an example of how Kate’s mood can be affected by the way other people relate to her. I am thinking specifically about the “kindness” and “respect” that she receives from our residents and staff. We are fortunate to live in such a supportive environment.

Yesterday was another day of cheerfulness and conversation. Once again, it began when I returned home after lunch. This time she was more animated than she had been on Saturday. We had another extended conversation.

As we left for our afternoon ice cream, we ran into a resident and a friend who was with her. After a brief conversation, the friend told Kate it was nice to see her. I don’t remember what Kate said, but she made an appropriate response to which the resident said, “That’s the first time I’ve heard her talk.”

When we reached the café, we found that a resident was playing his clarinet with a small audience of other residents who had gathered around him. Kate enjoyed the music and responded by nodding her head in rhythm with the music.

Shortly after he packed up his clarinet, a group of children arrived from a local church to sing a few Christmas carols. Kate joined right in with the singing. She loved every minute of it.

At dinner, Kate talked with her caregiver off and on during the entire meal.

Kate and I closed the day watching a Christmas special with Andrea Bocelli and his family. She remained cheerful until after I turned out the lights for the evening.

Life at this late stage of Alzheimer’s is quite different than it was in the earlier years after Kate’s diagnosis, but Kate and I still enjoy happy moments like these. They are especially welcome during this season of the year, and I am grateful.