“I’m not going today” said my mom when she called.
“But you go every day,” I responded. “Are you sick?”
“No,” Mom sighed. “There’s just no sense in going. He doesn’t even recognize me anymore.”
Trying to Stay Positive
I thought back to the time just a few months ago when my brother had flown out to visit from Washington, D.C. Peter had been devastated that our dad thought he was a new caregiver come to shave him. The social worker explained that it was common for people living with dementia to forget people, even family members, they’d not seen for a while … even family members whose pictures hung on the walls. She reminded Peter that Dad hadn’t seen him since he’d been moved into the skilled nursing area, but she said, “He always recognizes your mother.”
And he usually still recognized me … or, at least, that we were in some way connected. I timed my weekly visits so I’d be there during one of Mom’s daily visits. I knew it helped her to have someone to carry on a conversation with. She’d explained it was important that I made my voice sound cheerful, even if seeing his progressive decline made me sad. Mom’s own countenance never revealed the sadness in her heart.
Working to Stay Connected
When he could still get up on his own, Dad would stand to greet her and give her a hug. On the days I visited, she’d sort of reintroduce me to Dad to remind him who I was and that I worked as a kindergarten teacher. “Oh look, it’s Ellen,” she’d say. “I bet you can’t wait to hear what happened in her kindergarten class this week.”
Actually, by then Dad had regressed to enjoying some of the activities I did with my students. Mom brought things like wooden puzzles, Play-Doh, and paints to entertain him. The occupational therapist brought similar activities, but Dad never confused her with my mother.
Mom brought scrapbooks containing family pictures. She never said “remember” because, of course, he couldn’t. Instead, she brought back the memories to him.
Once when she showed him a picture of Pepper, our long-gone Scottie, he got tears in his eyes. He’d not lost his ability to feel. When she showed him a picture of my Aunt Isabelle, he pointed and said, “sister.”
And each day when she came, Dad always enthusiastically greeted Mom with a big smile and a delighted, “Jan.”
Until one day, he didn’t.
Supporting Each Other
The day after Dad failed to say “Jan” was the day when Mom called to say she wasn’t going.
“Why should I bother, when my coming doesn’t matter?” she said. “I don’t think he even knows my name anymore.”
I comforted Mom as best as I could, hoping to reassure her that her husband of 60 years still knew and loved her.
“Maybe he just can’t say it,” I suggested. “Tell you what, today’s Saturday. How about if I pick you up and we go over together.”
She agreed, so I drove her over and dropped her off at the front door. She waited for me to park the car, and then she led the way into the community room where she knew Dad would be sitting.
Trailing behind her, I saw, and the caregivers also saw, Dad’s reaction when he spied my mom. He looked right at her, and then he started clapping.
Those of us watching felt like clapping, too.
Mom kept those visits up for the rest of Dad’s life. She knew, we all knew, that every visit mattered.