Beth Childress
BETH CHILDRESS
Teacher, author, and parent of adopted cat, Peeks
Humanities

“Wonder and Wildness in Alzheimer’s Patients: Giving Back a Little Piece of Life”

 

I remember it like it was yesterday. One Sunday, several years ago, my pastor, Brian Habig, delineated the word “love” in the context of a sermon. He stepped away from the pulpit to face us, and, in his typical Brian way, he artfully  confessed his own negligence before addressing ours as a denomination and even as a society. What he said on this scorching Sunday morning I’ll not soon forget.

He said, in essence, that the person we tend to heed the least is in fact the one who needs us the most –the man or woman in a nursing home. This, of course, includes the precious faces and souls of those suffering from Alzheimer’s – those who do not know and may not ever know who we are.

 ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

On my first article about Alzheimer’s, I shared my experience of visiting a lady I called “Lucinda” who, at first, wanted to call the cops on me but by the end of the visit, was laughing so hard with me that she seemed to have forgotten that she didn’t know who I was. We were like old friends.

For this article, my focus is on a different lady – a lifelong family friend who, along with her daughters, suffered greatly from Alzheimer’s disease…

For Alzheimer’s is a family disease, and it touches each member who plays a part in caring for the one who can no longer speak for herself.

Her two daughters, Janet and Judy, were unrelenting in their care for her. Her room was always lovely – impeccably decorated with pictures, flowers, and Clemson paraphernalia. Their mother was as lovely as her name – Asilee.

I do not consider myself well-qualified to write this piece because I only visited this dear woman five or six times in two years. (My mom, Martha, visited her often.)

But all visits count.  Even if your words are not audible, your soul connects to the soul of a lost mind, a mind which somehow mysteriously restricts clear communication paths but simultaneously synchronizes with the warm touch of home.  For I believe that just one visit gently disentangles them from their muddy snare and escorts them into kind reception — not unlike the sense of home.  And finding home, connecting to something that was once stable…secure…familiar…seems to be a common cry for those whose worlds are confounded. And offering them a home— even for just a few minutes — is a slice of kindness served  to them.

For…is kindness lost on one who cannot communicate (conventionally)?

May it never be so!

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Whenever I did visit her, I’d show her old pictures from my phone and she’d call out the names immediately, beginning with Jack Raines…or David Ash.

She’d regale me with stories of water skiing at the lake with Mom and Dad, and we would just laugh and laugh and laugh. The details never got old; the stories, although repeated frequently, were delightful.

But I wasn’t there for the hard part – I had it easy.

I didn’t suffer from the pain of her not knowing my name.

Asilee was a sweet blessing. Mrs. Asilee Looper was a bundle of joy the few times I went to see her. I love it when eyes dance, and Asilee had dancing eyes and a jubilant smile.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

 

But Asilee is an exception. Many, many victims of this illness are rolled out into the hallways, presumably, to be less isolated. They imagine things that aren’t real and when they do speak, there is a certain randomness in their mixed-up messages. I wonder sometimes: is it because their friends and family left them there, visiting only on weekends – or holidays?

I’ll never know why so many suffer from this disease, but I do know that some remarkable men and women visit their loved ones regularly and take better care of them than any nurse or doctor possibly could. If I began to name them (exception: Richard Spearman, who never misses a chance to celebrate a soul), I’d be sure to forget someone, and that just wouldn’t be fair.

So I’ll focus on the beautiful lady who was with us until recently – Asilee.

Life is full of mystery. Our Creator never promised to give us all the answers.

It is also full of beauty and wonder and wildness and mess. Let’s bring some of this beauty and wonder back to a stranger who is suffering from the messiness of Alzheimer’s or dementia (or from other debilitations that accompany old age).

If they remember nothing about us or about our visit, we can bet that the time we spend with them (even for just those miniscule moments), they will feel alive again. We’ll not likely hear it from their mouths, but when we visit a troubled soul, we have reignited mystery and beauty and wildness and mess. And most important of all, we have celebrated them – and though they won’t be able to put it into words, deep inside – they’ll  know it.

 

And here’s a treat: 

A Special Song for the Suffering:

 

I have no musical talent (just ask any dog) but following is a song that strikes a chord in me as I reflect on  family and friends’ faithfulness  in bringing back life and meaning to their suffering parent – even when the parent can’t remember their names. And there is a renewed joy I have this morning, knowing that our dear Asilee, among many others who trusted Jesus, is no longer fading away.

For Mrs. Asilee Looper is not “the late Asilee Looper.” Although her earthly body is no longer with us, she is more alive now than ever. Her spirit is full and whole and wholly with Jesus as she awaits her perfect body that she’ll receive when He returns.

Until then, we can reflect on the beautiful song written by singers and songwriters Paul Gurney and Charlie McGettigan  (who have graciously granted me permission to print it) about the journey of Alzheimer’s, the disease that crushes the loved ones’ hearts as they see it crumbling their loved one’s mind. May this song serve as a stringent reminder to remember those who suffer.

 

Dedicated to Mrs. Asilee Looper and to the Janets and Judys of the world: thank you for continuing to bear the image of God as you care for your loved one:

 

Called to you the other day, you looked much the same

You didn’t know what day it was, you didn’t know my name

We talked about the good ol’ days and how there’d be no more

You asked for friends whose lives had ended many years before…

 

Cause sometimes you’re in a happy place

Sometimes frustration reigns

As I watch you look off into space

And I wonder where you’ve been

 

 It hurts to watch you struggle

With those demons in your head

And it hurts to watch your tortured face

As you try to find the thread

 

I see the person who looked after me in childhood years

I always knew that you were there to wipe away my tears

And though I see you sitting here, I know you’re far away

In some demented state of mind; where that is, you can’t say

We tried to make some sense of it

This family of ours

We tried to come to terms with this

Disease that just devours

We wished that you were back with us

Just as you used to be

But we know that all that’s left for us

Is some sweet memory

(“Sometimes,”  written and performed by Paul Gurney and  Charlie McGettigan)

 

“…Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.

The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echos of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration”

— Pearl S. Buck, Nobel Prize laureate. 

Suffering is a part of life, but it ends when our earthly bodies expire. If we put our faith in the only One who was perfect – perfect in life, perfect in love, perfect in death – then we have only joy awaiting us when we leave this earthly life – no matter how messy our beautiful mind may have been when we resided here.

OTHER ARTICLES BY THIS AUTHOR

“Medical Mistake 101”

June 9, 2018, 11:47 a.m.

The Way We WORD

May 24, 2018, 11:21 p.m.

Children, Depression, and Antidepressants

April 28, 2018, 7:19 p.m.

“Side effects”

April 13, 2018, 10:02 p.m.

“Side Effects”

April 13, 2018, 9:40 p.m.

My Last Visit: Toxic Doctors, Part Three

March 21, 2018, 9:28 p.m.

“Opposite Action”

Feb. 25, 2018, 3:05 p.m.

The Secret Song of Scoring a Good Daddy

Feb. 17, 2018, 6:16 p.m.

What do I do with my tree?

Dec. 26, 2017, 2:27 p.m.