You are more than your dementia diagnosis. Every week I look forward to seeing you. Every week I look around your room, and I look for things that might make you get tangled and trip, or fall, or get injured. I make sure your bed is down low, your fall mat is right next to the bed, and your mattress is on the bed in such a way that if you do happen to fall, your head won’t hit the metal frame on the way down. Your bed alarm is on. Your door is open. Your favorite television program is on, or the familiar Greek music is playing. Everything you need, including your Kleenex box and trash can are nearby and within reach. Your lunch is cut up in small bites and there is a towel on your lap. Your adorable great grandson’s picture with his bright red hair is turned just the right way on your night stand so you can see him when you wake up. There’s enough of everything you’ll need until I see you next week.
Sure, I take your blood pressure and listen to your lungs, check your medications, and make sure you’re clean and your wounds dressed. But I also open the photo album your family has put together for you, and watch as your heart goes back – way back, to a time you somehow remember and cherish. I can tell by your smile, and sometimes by your tears. That’s God grace.
I listen to you tell me that Montana is too beautiful to find the words adequate enough to describe. I watch as you point at each of your children in the family photo. You can’t remember their names, but you smile, and I know you really love them. I can tell.
You sit next to unfamiliar faces to eat dinner, and half of your food lands on your pants and shirt, but you enjoy a couple of good Hershey bars for dessert that the nice man in the kitchen always remembers to bring – just for you. You are always kind and offer me a square of your chocolate.
You still laugh as your husband dances around the kitchen singing in Italian, and smile as we flip through your wedding photos from 66 years ago.
You may not remember your diagnosis, but you remember how to be kind. It speaks volumes of your character.
You may not remember what year it is, or who the President is, but seriously – who cares? You remember your sons and daughters, and oh – how you smile at the mere mention of those grandchildren! They matter way, way more than the President. You’re still an amazing Dad. Your son has told me stories of how hard you worked. He loves you. You did a good job.
You haven’t a clue what’s going on in the world, the ugly political climate, the division between races, but you remember the beauty and majesty of the mountains in Montana. You tell me about them week after week. Thank you for that.
You couldn’t care less about me taking your blood pressure or your heart rate. You just want that home made Greek cookie your daughter made for you that’s sitting on your dresser. I wonder what they taste like.
I call your family after I see you, usually while in the car on the way to see another patient with the same diagnosis as you. They miss you. I try to encourage them, but it’s so hard. It’s so, so hard. I thank them for sharing you with me, and for telling me little things about your life.
You don’t know what you don’t know, and in a way – that’s comforting, even to me. I know it’s horribly difficult for those who love you – sometimes, I can’t help but wonder if God’s mercy just spares you from the ugliness of this world, and lets you forget the sadness and the ugly, but remember the beauty – and if I’m right, and that’s what God is doing – I’m very grateful for that. Oftentimes, when you smile at pictures of my grandchildren or yours, describe the beauty of the mountains of Montana, close your eyes as you enjoy eating a spoonful of orange marmalade spread way too thick on a piece of toast, or stop talking to me because your Greek cookie tastes so good, you remind of what what truly matters. And sometimes, I need to be reminded of that.
So thanks. Thanks for exactly who you are RIGHT NOW. You’re so much more than a dementia patient. Yours are the weekly visits I always look forward to, the smiles I can’t wait to see, and the hands I can’t wait to hold.
See ya next week!