“It breaks my heart,” one of the aides told me yesterday as we watched the aftereffects of an early Thanksgiving dinner at the memory care center/aka nursing home where my husband Fred lives. The dinner itself was beautiful, with lots of family members joining their impaired loved ones. We ate our turkey dinners off paper plates with plastic utensils, but it didn’t matter if it wasn’t the family china and silver or that some of the residents needed to be spoon fed. It was a party.
Most of the guests left right after lunch. Perhaps they had arrived earlier. Coming from the coast, almost two hours away, I barely made it in time for the meal and missed the piano music that preceded it. The parking lot was full when I got there, but within an hour, there were plenty of empty spaces.
Among those who remained behind were a couple I assume were the daughter and son-in-law of sweet old woman who walks bent over like the letter R. I’ll call her Viola to protect their privacy. They sat together on the couch for a long time, but then Viola’s loved ones were ready to leave, too. Apparently they have practiced this maneuver before. Viola is amazingly smart at Scrabble, but she is always talking about going home, so perhaps the truth would have created a bigger problem.
This sweet young aide asked Viola to come with her for a minute to help with something.
“No, we’re leaving,” said Viola.
“It’ll only take a minute, and I really need your help,” said the girl.
“Well, all right.” And the aide led Viola off to another room while her daughter and son-in-law hurried to the exit.
When poor Viola returned, they were gone. She couldn’t understand. She searched everywhere for them, saying, “They wouldn’t leave without me.” For over an hour, she walked around the building, bent at a right angle, whimpering her daughter’s name. “Lynn, Lynn.” That’s when the aide said it broke her heart. It broke mine, too.
After a while, Viola started talking about walking home. “I’ll have to walk. It’s 14 miles, but I have to go home. I’ve got my purse and my Bible. I’m all ready. I just don’t know how they could leave me like this.”
Would it really have been worse to tell her the truth? By the time I left, she was playing Scrabble with the activities director, but I could see her looking around, still wondering how her daughter could just leave her like that.
Meanwhile, another woman was having a tantrum, a man kept yelling and trying to hit people, and another woman pushed a wheelchair over a lady’s red, swollen toes. Mary, who sat closest to me as we watched “Anne of Green Gables” on the big-screen TV, kept saying, “Hi, Hon,” complaining that her back hurt and asking if she could go home with me. “In a few minutes. After the movie,” I lied. An aide came by and she started up with her. “Hi, Hon.”
Thank God Fred accepts my departures. Sometimes he cries, but he understands that I have to go. I hold my tears until I get to the car. I don’t even see the first 20 miles.
Alzheimer’s Disease, suffered by 5.3 million Americans, is the sixth leading cause of death, and it’s a terrible way to go. If you don’t know what to buy someone for Christmas, consider a donation in their name to the Alzheimer’s Association, http://www.alz.org.