May 29, 2011

Keeping The Love Alive: The Sacred Stand-In

I used to value understanding my life. The act of learning to understand something made my mind happy. Thanks to the dementia experience, I've now learned that love trumps understanding. The act of loving makes my heart happy...
By Sheryl Lynn
Alzheimer's Reading Room

I still don't understand the following story, but I appreciate having lived it.

My mother's dementia showed up after she hit her head during a catastrophic fall. Before the fall, well into her eighties, she lived an independent life in her own apartment.

A retired cardiologist and his wife lived next door to my mother. I'd smile and say a quick hello when I'd pass them in the hall. Mr. Doctor had a lovely smile. Mrs. Doctor was shy. The three of us never formed our own relationship, but they were good neighbors to my mom, and I appreciated them for that.

Mrs. Doctor slowly developed Alzheimer's Disease. Her husband the doctor, like so many of us, didn't understand his wife's situation. I've learned that having professional credentials doesn't always mean doctors know more about living with the effects of AD than the rest of us.

Mrs. Doctor, who'd previously presented as being shy and pleasant, now presented as being angry, fearful and volatile. She'd gotten skilled at sneaking out of her apartment during the early morning hours and wandering aimlessly up and down the heavily trafficked street, trying to find her peace within the chaos of AD. Her husband got used to the early morning phone calls from strangers saying his wife had been found and could he please come get her. He helplessly watched his wife's decline. How must it feel to have trained and worked for many years as a cardiologist, someone who'd spent his life saving the lives of others, and then stand by, unable to do anything to save the life of his beloved wife?

My mother and I were going out for lunch. We walked through the top floor of the parking garage to get to my car, parked in one of the outside guest spaces. As we were on our way out, Mr. and Mrs. Doctor passed by us on their way in.

As she passed, Mrs. Doctor looked at me, really looked at me, for the very first time, and stopped..

Her face softened. Her eyes got teary. She gently and reverently touched my cheek. She looked at me with awe, with enormous love, and with great respect.

We stayed like that for a few minutes. I sent her all the love I held in my heart. I could feel her receiving my love.

It was a powerfully sacred moment, even if I didn't understand what was happening. Just like that, Mrs. Doctor had stopped being a sick old lady. She'd been somehow transformed into a beautiful and radiant being.

Who did Mrs. Doctor see when she looked at me? Did she see me, the daughter of her neighbor? Did she see the legions of angels who routinely travel with me that many tell me they see? Did she see herself as a young woman? Did she see within my features the image of someone she used to love? Did she see something else, or did she see a combination of things?

Did she see love?

I will never know.

My mother sensed no one was to move until this sacred moment had passed and stepped back to allow Mrs. Doctor to have her time with me. Mr. Doctor's face was filled with love and appreciation. He was grateful that, for whatever reason, his wife had found a moment of peace.

We become many things to our loved ones during the dementia experience.

Sometimes we know what we need to be.

Sometimes we don't.

"Whatever the Question, Love is the Answer." --Jean-Claude Gerard Koven

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Sheryl Lynn is the author of the upcoming book "The Light Is A Thank You," which chronicles the spiritual journey through dementia she has taken with her mother, Eleanor. She is the host of "Glow With The Flow Radio Show," currently on hiatus.

More Insight and Advice for Caregivers

The Alzheimer’s Action Plan: The Experts’ Guide to the Best Diag­no­sis and Treat­ment for Mem­ory Prob­lems   The 36-Hour Day A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer Disease

Original content Sheryl Lynn, the Alzheimer's Reading Room