Sunday’s visit with our longtime friend Ellen Seacrest was different from those in the past. I’ve always expected that the declines in Ellen’s vascular dementia and Kate’s Alzheimer’s would ultimately change the nature of our visits. To a large extent it has, especially Ellen’s loss of speech. We can only understand a small portion of what she says. Our latest visit, however, was affected by our arriving at a time when the residents had gathered together for a program put on by a dance group from a local church.
Ellen was already seated in the middle of group. One of the staff helped to seat us next to her. We didn’t get to talk much before the program began. The pleasure Kate experienced came from the afternoon activities. The dancing was followed by ice cream that the dancers dished up and delivered to each of us in the audience.
We had only a thirty-minute break to talk with Ellen, but being in the middle of the audience made it challenging to talk with her. Several others around us joined in. In some ways that was helpful since we can’t understand Ellen; however, it also meant that we didn’t get to focus our attention on her the way we have in the past.
We had a big surprise when Ellen told us about someone she wanted us to meet. We couldn’t understand all that she said, but she was enthusiastic about him. In a little while, she rolled away in her wheelchair to greet a man. Then I began to understand. She had found herself a boyfriend. She called to us and told us his name is Mike, but we didn’t get up and go over to them because we were in the middle of the crowd, and the “Music Lady” was about to begin her music program. One of the staff told us that Ellen and Mike had established a relationship, but Mike’s wife hadn’t yet been informed. I know this is not unusual in memory care of skilled nursing facilities, but I hadn’t thought much about Ellen’s establishing such a relationship. I think that is because I felt that most of the residents are significantly further along in their dementia than Ellen. Mike, however, is a new addition. He was among the few not in a wheelchair and did not appear to be much different than Ellen.
We enjoyed the music for about forty-five minutes before we departed. Kate thoroughly enjoyed herself, but I regretted not having more time with Ellen.
Kate was talkative on the way home, especially during the latter part of the trip. She expressed her appreciation to me for caring for her. We talked about things we had in common that had made our relationship strong. For that reason, I was somewhat surprised when we got out of the car for dinner. She said, “I want you to know that I think we will get married sometime.”
Most of the time when she doesn’t know my name or our relationship, I am not very surprised. I realize these moments of recognition come and go all the time. The nature of our conversation and, more specifically, her own comments about our relationship made it seem like it was one of those times when she clearly recognized me as her husband. Of course, it is quite possible her recognition of our relationship was coming and going all the way home. That’s another thing I will never know.
Each time we have these out-of-town trips, I am sensitive for any signs that suggest its time to discontinue them. Nothing happened on this trip that would prevent our going back again. Kate and I had a good dining experience on Saturday night and Sunday for lunch. She also enjoyed the dancing, ice cream, and music even if she didn’t get much of a visit with Ellen. Considering everything, the trip was clearly worth it. We’ll be back.