Thursday, September 30, 2010

End of Summer.....

The wild turkeys gather in the backyard, huddled together, as if they know something about the upcoming winter that I don't. The autumn leaves are quickly replacing summers last green and the lone patio chair placed in it's silent stance till spring comes round again.

My waiting room fills with young voices all seeking a way to live in this world. Homesickness fills the corners of my office as we plot our course together of letting go....we let go of beliefs held since childhood, summer flings and summer loves, a misperception here and there. Teacher and student.... roles reversed, on any given day. Take me on your journey....learn to live on your own.
On her unit, the days grow shorter and darkness hovers at the edges. There are dark holes in the floor where the carpets used to be. So many empty spaces and beds. The red chairs that signify "Hospice" is in the house. There are fewer smiles, fewer words and thoughts, less attention given to the present. Where do you go for longer and longer periods of time? There is a place where I cannot go with you. I sit vigil, waiting for a glimpse of your return. Our last best day of summer, I walked you outside. The Rose of Sharon was in full bloom and you said it was beautiful. We held hands, I always trying to hold onto more of you than I can find. The blooms are long since faded, having dropped to the ground, color and life retreating. I too work hard to let you go.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

o-a-sis - noun : something serving as a refuge, relief or pleasant change from that what is usual, annoying or difficult, etc.

My mother had a standing 3:30 appointment on Thursday afternoons at the beauty parlor when I was a child. There were no highlights or blow dries offered there. This was the old school salon that offered perms, wash and sets and an occasional cut. My mother, as many women in that generation, did not touch her hair in between appointments. Her only preparation each morning before work, was to apply an armor producing coating of hairspray to her head. Her curls would survive a hurricane! I would be dragged along on these appointments and succumb to boredom in the hour and a half we were there. By the age of 9, I was a weekly reader of both "Good Housekeeping" and the "Ladies Home Journal". Perhaps my later vocation as a psychotherapist was due in part to all those "Can This Marriage Be Saved" columns.

There is a room on my mothers unit that is the domain of Rita. Rita is a short but mighty woman with a hearty laugh, warm brown eyes and a heart of gold. She operates the beauty parlor on the Alzheimers unit. Much like the beauty parlor of my youth, this one offers perms, wash and sets and cuts. Not on the menu, but offered in large quantity are hugs, respect for her clients and lollipops. This room is an oasis within the troubled landscape just outside the door. Clients in this room have no agitation, no confusion, nor do they try to wander away. It is said that the body remembers what the mind forgets. I watch my mothers face as she settles in for her wash and set. A smile breaks as she is given her lollipop and as the warm water and Ritas' gentle hands massage her scalp, she closes her eyes in bliss. No confusion here....she remembers precisely the comfort and pleasure of a good shampoo.

I accompany my mother on this weekly appointment. Gone are the magazines, as I would not read them anyway. I savor the experience each week and the memories it brings to mind. Touch....whether a gentle massage, a hug, or a hand lightly stroking her cheek is still a common experience we can share. Lifes best gifts are found in the small things....Ritas' hearty laugh, a long ago memory.....a lollipop.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Looking For Lawrence Welk....

I live with Alzheimers, so I get to find humor in it. There's so little about this disease to laugh about that eventually you find yourself chuckling about really crazy things. It keeps me sane. For example, I'm walking down the hall this morning looking for my mom and Jackie (fellow resident) is walking towards me. I shout out a fairly cheerful good morning and pause on my way to the music room. "Have you seen Lawrence Welk?"... she asks. I tell her with confidence that I do not believe he is in the building, but rumor has it he will be around this afternoon. Did I mention that Alzheimers also makes you a pretty good liar. Jackie is a former model and singer, so in a weird way it kinda makes sense that she's looking for old Lawrence. Are you following me on this?
Today was a good visit. I found humor everywhere I looked instead of the obvious alternative. When they ask my mother for a urine sample and she delivers it in her roomates denture cup...that's funny. When the dentures also happen to be in the cup, even funnier and yes, this is a true story.
My mother loves a good joke and still likes to laugh. That's one thing that hasn't changed about her over the last few years. Research into Alzheimers has found that short but cheerful visits tend to set the tone for the patients day, long after they have forgotten you were even there. On my visits I try to get her laughing. Sometimes she'll even chime in with her own joke or funny story. It doesn't matter if it makes sense.....the treasure is in the laughter. Today was a good day and besides, I hear Lawrence Welk is playing tonight!