One of the hardest things about dealing with a loved one who has dementia is the moment when you see them for the first time and they don’t recognize you. You look into their eyes and search deep into their soul and try to come up with something, anything that will help make them remember. Sometimes you get a nugget, sometimes you don’t, but inevitably you get to the point where the memory is no longer there on the outside and you take comfort in the fact that somewhere on the inside you still exist.
I would say that it was a good five years before my grandmother passed that she started showing signs that we didn’t immediately recognize. Mood changes and behaviors that were out of the norm started to pop up. Grandma was always opinionated and if she had something to say she said it, so it was often hard to tell if some action was just her being her, but in a little different way. You can look back and ask yourself why you didn’t see it. However, unless you have lived it, understanding why isn’t readily apparent. However, this story isn’t about recognizing the signs, it is about taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves once you know.
Poignant moments will arise that are so important to take advantage of, for they will present you with an opportunity to create a memory that will last a lifetime. One of those moments for me was about a week before my grandmother passed. At that point, she had pretty much stopped eating and drinking, but true to form for her, she was still up in her wheelchair. She was not one to lay in her bed if she didn’t have to. That was the strength and resolve that she always showed. When I arrived for a visit, I found out that although she was refusing food and had a hard time swallowing, occasionally she would take water from a sponge just to keep her mouth wet. An opportunity for a moment that I seized because at that point in the process you find anything that you can to hold on to.
The nurses sat my grandmother in a chair outside her room and I got a cup of water and a little round sponge on a stick. The sponge had ridges on it that made it easier to bite down on to be able to extract the water. As long as I would give it to her, she would suck on the sponge and drink. Once we were finished, she took her hand and placed it on mine. This was one of the most beautiful experiences that I ever shared with my grandmother and it still makes me smile.
I believe that there is no greater love than being able to care for someone who cared for you unconditionally. Dealing with her dementia in the three years that she was in the nursing home instilled the passion in me that drives what I do today. I learned that there are so many out there dealing with the same thing. I also learned that the most important thing we can do is remember that although they may not be there in mind, they are still people, they are still there and most of all they know that we are there as well.
My point of the story is this: No matter what you do in life, sometimes we only get one opportunity to create a memory and it is so incredibly important to seize on that opportunity when it presents itself. You can make those opportunities into anything you want. Trust me, turning them into wonderful happy memories, despite the circumstance, will give you something to cherish. I don’t look at these pictures and cry, I look at them and smile. Why? Because I know that somewhere up there she is looking down on me and smiling and saying, “I taught you well and you listened.”
Have a great day and remember to be the reason someone smiles.