Alzheimer's Reading Room
“Me?” she exclaimed – smiling, looking up at me, raising her eyebrows and putting her hand over her heart.
“Yes. You,” I answered, delighted by her excited reaction.
She had already won my heart. It was obvious she was thrilled to have me visit even if she had no earthly idea who I was.
Since retiring a few months ago, I’d decided to volunteer spending time with some local memory care facility residents who don’t have many visitors. I selected the marvelous Overland Park, Kansas Clare Bridge community that’s part of Brookdale Senior Living.
This was my first day and Ms. Daisy was my first ‘client.’
Numerous friends and acquaintances who do similar types of volunteer work have told me they receive so much more than they give. I have always taken that with a grain of salt. I honestly didn’t see how it could be true.
I was hesitant at first because I was afraid visiting people with dementia would make me sad. That it would remind me of Ed, my Romanian soul mate of 30 years, who had passed away with Alzheimer’s seven years earlier.
But those fears were ungrounded. I’ve only got sad once because of remembering Ed. In the middle of my second visit I was overcome by memories of my loss and I felt sure I was going to cry all the way home. But the feeling passed before I left the building that day and I didn’t feel like crying at all.
But back to Ms.Daisy. During our first visit I discovered her social skills are so good you’d think she’s volunteering to visit me! When I leave, she always says, “I hope I see you again.” Then she insists on walking with me to the front door. That really warms my heart.
During that first visit, I asked her, “What kind of music do you like?”
Without hesitation she blurted out, “classical!”
“Who’s your favorite composer?” I inquired.
I didn’t really expect her to remember the name of any one composer, but she promptly and definitively said, “Tchaikovsky.”
So for the next visit I wrapped up a CD of The Nutcracker Suite and gave it to her. She tore off the gift wrap and smiled real big when she saw what was inside. She thanked me repeatedly.
But after a few minutes, her eyes became downcast, and she said “I’m sorry I don’t have anything to give you.”
To help her save face, I pointed out that she had some cookies on her table.
She laughed lightly and said, “Sure. Help yourself.”
When I soon asked if I could have another she said, “Take as many as you want. They’re from HyVee. HyVee has good cookies.”
And she was right. They were some of the best cookies I ever tasted.
Come Back Early Today:
Next, I put the disc into the slot of the portable CD player I’d brought along. It was immediately obvious that she was familiar with the selections. She smiled, moved in time to the music and used her hand to tap out the rhythms on her lap.
She even knew when each piece was almost over, because she started clapping right before the last notes. And she became more vigorous with each number. She loved every one more than the one before. It was such a joy to see her exhilaration.
And what’s more, I loved it, too, because I have a background in classical music. So we have that in common. I enjoy the music every bit as much as she does. It’s almost as though we were destined to be paired up.
At the end of the visit she said, “I hope I see you again.” Then she whispered, “but I probably won’t be here. I’m going home tomorrow.”
I knew full well she wasn’t going home the next day, but had no intention of telling her that.
“Well, if you do go home,” I said, “have a wonderful time there. But if you are still here I’ll come visit you again next week.”
“Oh, that would be wonderful,” she said. After a couple of seconds, she repeated, “But I probably won’t be here.”
Then – as always - she insisted on walking with me to the front door. I moved beside her as she inched along ever so slowly, unsteadily pushing her walker down the short hallway. We shook hands then I left.
When I went the next week she was in her room.
“I’m Marie,” I explained, pretty sure she wouldn’t remember me. “I’m a volunteer visitor here and I’ve come to spend some time with you.” I said.
She studied my face carefully then said with a slight hesitation, “Uh - I think I’ve seen you before.”
“Yes, you have!” I exclaimed. “I visited you last week.”
“Oh. That’s marvelous,” she said.
Then we got down to business – to what would soon become our special routine. I ate cookies while we listened to The Nutcracker Suite.
In fact, all of our visits are the same.
She gives me the treats, then we listen to the ballet suite. I do this because I know she loves the music and won’t remember we listened to it the previous time. So I don’t have to think up different activities every week.
When she hears the music it’s as though it’s the first time I’ve played it for her.
Yes. My friends are right. I am receiving so much more than I give. And I hope to be visiting Ms. Daisy for a long time to come.
Marie Marley is the author of the uplifting, award-winning book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy. To learn more about Marie and to accesss her wealth of information for caregivers go to Come Back Early Today.
To learn more about Alzheimer's and Dementia visit the Alzheimer's Reading Room.