Being There

2013.1.29 paintingIt seems every day I meet another person with a story about caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and dementia and nearly always I learn something new—and inspiring.

Case in point is Al, who told me about his Aunt Lillian.  In the very late stages of Alzheimer’s, Lillian spent most of her day bent and silent and—at first and second glance—out of reach.  It was all too easy for her family members to think of her as gone, content to remember her as she once was or trying to “awaken” her interest in the present.  A constant refrain of “How are you, Aunt Lillian?” wasn’t exactly a great conversation starter.

But Al chose simply to be with her.  Sitting on the floor, he positioned himself exactly where her gaze fell, and there he would sit for twenty minutes or longer, focusing all his attention on her face until her eye would light on him—if not with recognition, certainly with cognition.  Then he would talk to her, calmly telling her that that she had Alzheimer’s disease, carefully explaining how the disease was damaging her brain and her ability to interact with those around her, assuring her that she was safe, surrounded by people who loved and cared for her and finally, telling that her mother was proud of her.  Then came a magic and memorable moment.  To the surprise of everyone, Lillian spoke.  “Thank you.  I needed to know that.”

They are still here…and we who make this journey with our loved ones are the lucky ones.  Be there with them and you’ll find that they still have the power to surprise us and teach us.

As usual I spent the afternoon with Mom before her painting class today.  Today, we read a book about elephants who paint—Elephants Can Paint Too! (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster).   It’s a wonderful book which I highly recommend for everyone.

By the way, here is a good use for drones—let’s use them to detect and punish elephant poachers.   Anyone with me on this?





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