After attending the Oklahoma City Alzheimer's Association's 13th annual Memory Gala last week, I was reminded of my daughter Krista's experience as a chaplain on an Alzheimer's and dementia ward at a large hospital for the elderly in New Haven, Conn.
She soon realized her credentials, education and accomplishments would not impress the patients. They would only know if she was a kind human being.
Because Krista had not known the residents before and had no former self with which to compare them as did their family and friends, her job was to come to know and love them as they were.
Today my friend Dot, whom I have known for 35 years, lives on an Alzheimer's ward here in Oklahoma City.
Her daughter, Sherri Gamel, told me that one afternoon when she bent to kiss her mother goodbye, Dot grabbed her arm and said clearly, “Where are you going?”
Taking hold of Sherri's hand and putting it to her cheek, Dot said clearly, “I want to say something,” but there was only silence. Twice more she repeated, “I want to say something,” but no words came and soon only silent tears began to spill down her cheeks.
Sherri told me later, “It broke my heart. I wondered all evening what my Mom wanted to say. There is a lot all of us want to say these days, but sometimes there are not words for us either — only tears.”
Alzheimer's begins with short-term memory loss, but ultimately strips one of identity, personality, autonomy and relationships. Yet, we are left wondering what is going on inside the person.
Sherri believes this is what my daughter observed while working on the Alzheimer's wing in Connecticut.
Krista wrote, “Even as the power of memory and cognition behind the structure of our lives unravels, the spark of life remains. Emotions are felt deeply, intuition persists, and the human desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, remains vital.”
More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. About 15.4 million unpaid caregivers tend them.
Go to www.alz.org/. Get the facts. Make a donation.
Charlotte Lankard is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.