When capturing essential moments, a Chinese proverb says it best: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” The point of the proverb, just because we have lost many significant moments does not mean that we should overlook the ones that present themselves now.
I just returned home from attending a funeral for a lady who has had dementia for the last seven years. I had the privilege of knowing her and her family very well. The family asked me to say a few words at the memorial.
I listened as her grandson spoke so lovingly and then her niece. I, of course, only knew her these last five years. So I offered the final perspective of remembrance for her life. It touched upon the things said by the two who preceded me. She was so much the same person and I included stories of her loving those who cared for her, those who worked with her and of her family, how they embraced her and she did them. Afterward, her grandson thanked me for sharing what I did, because it gave all those in the room a perspective they didn’t have because they didn’t come to see her.
He lived across the country and could only visit about two or three times a year. Upon his last visit, Nana was sick and he cherished his time more than ever, not knowing what the future held. He then proceeded to tell me that on his last visit to his Nana, he gave her a huge hug and whispered into her ear, “I love you Nana”, and she responded with, “I love you too”. He is comforted to have had these last words with her.
Although Nana had severe dementia, it did not prevent her from feeling the love of her grandson nor expressing her love for her grandson. Too often we consider those with dementia to be incapable of experiencing the most basic emotions. When we do, we often are the ones who bear the loss. Nana’s grandson did not have this mindset and as a result, he has a cherished memory for the rest of his life.
There was another family I worked with, it was a daughter and mother relationship. The mother had six children and a controlling boyfriend. Mom struggled in life and her children were not always her priority. As she started to show symptoms of getting dementia, the boyfriend forced her to marry him and move away. One of her daughters utilized the legal system to acquire guardianship of her mother and it was at this time that I met them.
This daughter would visit her mom all the time. She would bring her small children and was always pampering her mom. It was a great relationship to watch, and yet confusing given the mom’s poor parenting. Her daughter treated her as if she had been the best mom in the world. The daughter let go of the past and concentrated on the now. She was so happy to have this relationship with her mom, it was the best one they ever had.
The daughter would take mom to get her nails done or they would get pedicures together. Mom was also diagnosed with cancer and this allowed them much time together at the hospital. One day, while they were in the hospital, mom looked into her daughter’s face, made eye contact and said, “I’m sorry.” The daughter gave her love unconditionally and in return, her mom gave her more than she could ever ask for.
So, what I am reminded of again, is the importance of the moment. It is important to step back, slow down, take a deep breath and observe the world around you. It would be good if we all did this every now and then, but especially with someone you love who has dementia. Today, they have something to offer you. Will you slow down and take it?