Monday, October 26, 2015

Once In a Lifetime

On Sunday, I was working at the Sedalia Business Women’s Chicken Dinner when I saw an elderly lady sitting all alone at a table. Unlike everyone else, she did not have a plate of chicken and trimmings in front of her.

She had a lost look, and instinctively I knew she had dementia. Concerned that she had wandered in and didn’t have a ticket, I walked over to her and asked, “Are you hungry for chicken?” I had already decided that if she didn’t have a ticket, I’d buy her lunch.

She smiled at me, tilted her hand back and forth, and murmured some indiscernible words. I smiled at her and walked to the ticket table.

“Do you know who that lady is?” I asked.

“No, but I think she has Alzheimer’s. Her husband is fixing her plate.”

I milled around, refilling drinks, cleaning trays and tables. Eventually, a lady walked up to me, read my nametag and asked, “Are you the Linda Fisher I saw in the paper that’s involved with the Alzheimer’s Association.” I told her I was. With tears in her eyes, she told me her husband had Alzheimer’s, and she had always wanted to meet me.

Later, another woman introduced herself to me to let me know a mutual friend had steered her toward my blog. Her husband, only in his sixties, had Alzheimer’s.

Eventually, I worked my way back to the table where the lady sat with her husband eating her chicken dinner. She spotted me and reached out to give me a hug. “I love you,” she said as she kissed me on the cheek. I hugged her back. When the hug ended, she kissed my hand.

Her husband smiled and said, “She thinks everyone is the Pope.”

I introduced myself and told him my husband had passed away at fifty-nine from dementia.

“Then, you understand what we are going through,” he said.

“Yes, I do,” I said. We chatted for a while about caregivers. He had just hired a new one. He was dismayed with the lack of help and support he had found. He told me he didn’t have a computer, I took his name and phone number to pass on to the Alzheimer’s Association.

It doesn’t matter where we are or what we are doing, the chances are good we will run into someone who has a personal connection with Alzheimer’s—people filled with questions and looking for answers. Caregivers muddle through the disease doing the best they can based on trial and error.

Unfortunately, when I look into the face of someone with Alzheimer’s or the faces of caregivers, I don’t have all the answers to their questions. All I can really do is offer hugs or hug back when I’m being hugged. Offer support and caring. Listen. Accept human flaws. Know that the worst response is indifference.

I’m thankful that these people shared their personal stories, and thankful for the opportunity to share a hug with a lovely lady who happens to have Alzheimer’s. I’m grateful for a glimpse into her life—learn she was once a teacher, know she has a life beyond the scope of the disease, and grateful she has a husband who fixes her plate and looks out for her well-being.

Alzheimer’s disease is as unpredictable as life itself. Each day is a new adventure and a new experience. Yesterday, I met a lovely lady named Alice, and just like in Lisa Genova’s book, she is still Alice. Thanks to her, a chicken dinner turned into a once in a lifetime experience of being mistaken for the Pope, and to share a few unforgettable moments with a loving, good-hearted woman named Alice.   

Copyright © October 2015 by L.S. Fisher

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