Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Unexpected grace

Every now and then, something just leaps out and surprises me in my work. I had to visit some patients in a local assisted living "memory care" unit. "Memory care" is a gentle way of describing a secure, locked area where people with dementia, Alzheimers or related cognitive disorders live. Admittedly, it's not a place where most of us would like to end our days, but some of us will. This facility (which must remain nameless for confidentiality's sake) has a pretty good memory care unit and their director is very good. I have seven patients in this unit and you never quite know what they will say or do. Working in there definitely sharpens your improvisational skills!

There is one couple in the unit who live together. The husband is forgetful but still conversant. He's always a gentleman and appreciates being able to talk about his faith. His wife has Alzheimers and isn't able to converse anything more than what we call "word salad" - a jumbling of words and sounds which do not make sense to the listener. I visited the gentleman in their shared room and we had a nice visit. They've been married 64 years - I call them the "cute couple on campus" and this usually elicits a chuckle from both of them. His wife was eating her breakfast in the dining room so I joined her there.

She was sitting in her wheelchair and I could tell she didn't recognize me when I first spoke to her. I showed her my badge and introduced myself as the chaplain - she smiled at me and took my hand. She has a far away look in her eyes most of the time. I asked how her breakfast was, she struggled to reply, "I'm not hungry." She tried to say some words but they didn't make much sense so I just held her hand and smiled. Towards the end of the visit, I asked her if I could pray for her. She said, "Yes." So I offered a prayer for her and her husband and a blessing. She said, "Thank you." I told her, "You're welcome - I'll see you soon."

As I gathered my belongings and put on my coat, she watched me intently. As I turned to leave, she reached out for my hand and said, "I love you." I was taken by surprise. I took her hand and she pulled me towards her and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I wished her a Merry Christmas.

Like I said, you never know what will happen!

1 comment:

Scott A Olson said...

I knew a man who's mother had Alzheimer's for several years. His father had passed away when he was a very young child, so he had few memories of his father. For whatever reason, his mother rarely spoke of his father as he grew up. She was never willing to share with him what his father was like. As the Alzheimer's progressed, she began to tell story after story about his father. He learned more about his father in the last two years of her life than he'd ever known.