May 30, 2011

Keeping The Love Alive: Understanding Why

"We don't see things as they are. We see them as we are." -- Anais Nin

By Sheryl Lynn
Alzheimer's Reading Room

In July of 2009, my spiritual sister, whom I'll call Denise, volunteered to visit my mom. My mother moved into her new digs at the memory care facility two months before, and it was still difficult for me to visit her. Denise has a beautiful heart. She also understands dementia, having been the primary caregiver for her late stepfather.

I was happy to see my mom remembered Denise. They hugged each other hello before settling down for a good chat.

My mom seemed to be having a good day, and I asked Denise if she'd be OK staying my mom while I ran to the mall to refill the stash of root beer barrel candies. I led them to a bench on one of the outside porches, where they'd be shaded from the intense summer sun.

I returned maybe 45 minutes later. I found Denise and my mom sitting together in the same place. But they weren't alone. A man, a new resident I'll call Dom, was now sitting on Denise's left. Dom was stroking the inside of the upper part of her arm, very close to her breast.. He was, shall we say, very much enjoying the experience.

My mother, on the other side, was alternating between joy that I'd come back and anger that I'd left. I offered her one of her favorite root beer barrels, and she calmed down.

Denise, bless her, had been a caregiver and decided to ride the awkward moment out until I got back.

She later told me she'd never been so happy to see anyone in her life as she was to see me return. Dom's uninvited advances had unnerved her.

Dom didn't want to let her go. He tried to hold onto her arm. Dementia notwithstanding, he was still physically strong. He did his best to keep her close. Denise had good upper body strength and was able to defend herself. She kindly but powerfully took her arm back, and we left to have dinner. We didn't know exactly why Dom felt it was OK to caress Denise's upper arm, but we made up the stories most would make up to explain it away.

Dom's decline accelerated, and he passed away 11 months later. His wife, the woman he'd married when they were both in their twenties, passed away a day earlier. The timing of the two deaths shocked all who'd known him.

I found the obituary online. I enjoyed learning about the life he'd led before moving into the facility, and I enjoyed reading about the life the two of them had lived. But it was the photo accompanying the obituary that taught me the lesson I'll never forget. Dom's wife and Denise could have been mother and daughter. They had the same build, the same sweet expression, the same calm and powerful energy, and the same coloring.

The dirty old man who'd been groping my friend had been revealed as a lonely husband who'd thought his young wife, his beloved, had come to visit him. I couldn't wait to tell Denise what I'd learned. She understood the gift she'd been to Dom in that moment and was grateful to have been in service to him as his gift.

We don't always know why our loved ones do what they do, with or without dementia. It's so easy to make up stories about their motivation. Why do we do it? Perhaps we need to understand why, for that one moment, our loved ones act as they do, when so much else doesn't make sense. It doesn't mean our stories are the only explanation.

It's just as easy to make up stories about our loved ones that celebrate their goodness as it is to make up stories that celebrate their badness.

Which choice feels more loving to you?

"We don't see things as they are. We see them as we are." -- Anais Nin

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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.

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Original content Sheryl Lynn, the Alzheimer's Reading Room