Let me start by saying that I know that some people are going to read this and feel sad, depressed and/or scared. To those people I’ll just say, I’m sorry you don’t see this the way I do.
Today I met with one of my favorite dementia patients. Alice is a lovely, warm and rather lonely woman who is always happy to have me visit and sing with her. She’s one of my “clients” (though they quickly become so much more than the word implies) who always meets me for the first time. She’s very open to having me sing, but demurely professes not to be able to sing herself. However, in less than one phrase or measure of whatever song I choose, Alice is belting it out with joy and enthusiasm, rarely forgetting a single word. And if asked, she’ll reluctantly admit that she had a lead role in her church choir, and frequently sang with her large family.
Alice loves to talk about her family. She has eight brothers and one sister, and her parents met at the University of Texas or Texas State, depending on the day. Her father is a farmer and something of a math whiz who helps neighbors with their bookkeeping and financial matters because his generous nature is commensurate with his business acumen. He is a quiet, somewhat solitary man, and he has a very warm and loving relationship with Alice’s mother, who plays the piano and has beautiful blue eyes.
Alice talks about them often. But more than anything, she talks about her eight brothers, whom she adores. She was born on the birthday of one of them – Roy – who has a beautiful voice and always calls her his “birthday present”. I put all that in the present tense, because that’s how Alice describes her family, even though I suspect all or most of them passed away years ago. But to her, they are permanently present in her life.
And today she couldn’t wait to tell me that “My brother is here today!” I asked if it was Roy (who I can tell is her favorite) but no, it was Clifford, who according to Alice is 18 years old. Clifford is “so dang smart”, as are all the members of her family, she says. He just finished high school and loves to work on cars. He’s very mechanical, like her father. I remarked on how wonderful it was to get a visit from her brother, and asked her if she’d had a chance to see anyone else. She excitedly told me that she had gone to Lemesa last Sunday to visit two of her brothers who live there. (Keep in mind, Alice is more or less bedridden, and probably hasn’t left her nursing facility in years.) She let me know that her brother Dan and his wife Irene had gone to Lubbock because one of their children was in the hospital, but the baby seems to be doing well, so that’s good. She said that Roy will be here this weekend and her sister Elizabeth – who teaches at “the university up there” and has lost a lot of weight recently; her hair always looks good – will be here soon. She warned me that her brother Buddy may try to flirt with me if I come to the house for breakfast, but not to worry because he doesn’t flirt too much. She wishes that her brothers would tell her more about what’s going on in their lives, but they’re quiet, like her father, and she sometimes has to drag things out of them. She said that it’s hard for her to know what’s going at home these days, since she’s away at school. But she enthusiastically shared all the family news: Her mother went and got her picture made, but no one knows why; Glenn has a girlfriend now; Maurice is busy as always; and lots more.
As I said, I know some people will find it sad that an 80-90 year old woman doesn’t have her exact geographic and temporal coordinates straight. But, today Alice was filled with joy and she had a great day with her family! And I was lucky enough to be there for the family reunion.