Sunday, December 16, 2007

Grace In The Time Of Alzheimer's


The first morning of my new job I sat in a kid's size wooden chair in the "activity room" of the Alzheimer's unit of the assisted living facility. The 20 or so residents seated in gliders and rockers were clearly waiting for the person in the kid's size wooden chair - me - to do something. Written on the white board beside the piano were promises of all sorts of interesting fun "activities" for the day ahead - exercise, cooking, word games, singalongs and so on.


Grace In The Time Of Alzheimer's
The Tampa Tribune

I'm always leery when a potential employer seems too eager to hire me, kind of like how Groucho Marx felt about not wanting to belong to a club where they'd accept him as a member. But when the woman who interviewed me told me this job would be "just having fun" and didn't raise her eyebrows at my colorful resume, I accepted her offer.

The first morning of my new job I sat in a kid's size wooden chair in the "activity room" of the Alzheimer's unit of the assisted living facility. The 20 or so residents seated in gliders and rockers were clearly waiting for the person in the kid's size wooden chair - me - to do something. Written on the white board beside the piano were promises of all sorts of interesting fun "activities" for the day ahead - exercise, cooking, word games, singalongs and so on.

It was my job to make those things happen.

I stood up and walked around the room and introduced myself. Some held my cold clammy hand a long time, concerned about my obvious lack of healthy blood circulation. I asked where they'd been born. A petite woman with cornflower blue eyes whispered that she couldn't remember her home state. So we decided she could be from Ohio, where the pretty lady next to her was from.

I'd spent a large part of my Alabama childhood in the near-constant presence of elderly grandparents, aunts and uncles, and so while I was comfortable on one level, these folks had no connection to me, no reason to think I was up to any good. Would they trust me?

But little by little, we grew to know and like each other.

Most days I couldn't believe I was getting paid to do something I enjoyed so much. Other days, it was painfully clear that I worked for a corporation, didn't play office politics very well and couldn't turn my head when I saw corners being cut in resident care.

When those facts had me down, I never failed to get a reminder of the bigger picture that I was privileged to be a part of.

On one of those particularly difficult days, during the conversation I had every afternoon with a tall, handsome gentleman with deeply intelligent eyes and a slight Southern accent, when he'd ask where his car was and I'd lie to him that I'd sent it to be washed, he told me, "You know, I remember you the most."

There simply was no higher compliment.

These folks were locked behind doors with numbered keypads, often unable to decide for themselves what they'd wear for the day or what they'd like for lunch, or the names of their children. And things would only get worse. Yet still they smiled, still laughed, still thanked me for every tiny deed I did for them. They didn't mind if I forgot ingredients when we baked cookies, if my jokes were lame, that my singing was painfully off key or that my dancing followed a rhythm you won't likely see on "Dancing with the Stars."

They ate, laughed, sang and danced with me anyway.

Their graciousness belied any infirmity.

This job was so much more than "just having fun."

Every day, I was reminded of the value of enjoying the present, that the past is best remembered however we like, and that worrying about the future is a waste of time. And for that, I would remember these people.

The most.


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Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The blog contains more than 2,255 articles with more than 272,100 links on the Internet. Bob resides in Delray Beach, FL.


Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room