I volunteer at the local hospital in what’s called the ‘Adult Day Care Center’. Many caregivers bring their loved one, one to five times a week, depending on their circumstances and needs. Many participants, as they are referred to, have Alzheimer’s, dementia, are stroke victims, etc.
I have gotten to know some of the patients pretty well. Well enough to fall in love with them, at least. I’d like to tell you about them, but am going to give them fictitious names, for obvious reasons.
There’s Gina and I think she’s one of my favorites. She had a stroke. She can’t do much with her right hand and uses a cane but she’s smart and quick witted. But today was a sad day for me, for every week that I have volunteered she has remembered me. Except for today. That broke my heart. Not that she didn’t remember me, but that she didn’t remember me. And that’s what broke my heart. But Gina still encouraged me, and the others that were there today - with her wit and her beautiful smile, even though she slept most of the day because she was so tired. And she taught me how to play one of the greatest card games I’ve ever played and we’ve played it together since, each time I go. Except for today. She was too tired. I missed my regular Gina.
Then there’s Jean. She’s soft-spoken, quiet, and so adorable. She needs help with most everything and says many things that don’t make much sense. But today she sat next to Gina and rubbed Gina’s hands so that they’d feel better, as they were very stiff and closed up. And Robert likes to sit next to Jean because she’s so sweet and kind and quiet. She also has the most beautiful smile ever. And she loves jewelry and can tell you where she’s gotten every piece she wears.
Robert is withdrawn, to a point, which is why he probably prefers people around him like Jean. He gets nervous. Today is the first time I’ve gone that I’ve seen him smile. And he also has a beautiful smile. He is always adorable in his white pants and shirt and suspenders. But today he was especially nervous because we had a new participant, Cheryl.
Cheryl is blind and has severe dementia and gets very distressed if she isn’t holding her ‘baby’ – a little doll, wrapped in a flannel blanket. She spent much of the day wandering and getting acquainted with her new surroundings, which she will most likely forget about and be distressed again when she comes back. But, she has a beautiful voice and sang all day long and knew every single song the little couple played, who so willingly come each week to sing and play for these special people.
Karen, one of our nurses in the center, is so sweet and took care of Cheryl most the day, trying to keep her as calm as possible, singing and humming along with her. Karen is merciful and so kind to these people and Steven adores her, even if he has to look at her badge to remember her name. From week to week, Steven may forget Karen’s name, but never her kindness towards him.
I think Steven is one of my favorites, as well. He is so thoughtful. He is very young, but has suffered a terrible accident that not only left him partially handicapped, but suffers from short-term memory loss as well, at the young age of 43. But he can tell you all about his experiences in the Marines and sing all the songs and Steven can light up a room with his smile and make your day with his sweet encouragements and kindness. And he’s so helpful and never misses a please or thank you and makes sure you get those thoughtful words, if someone else neglected to offer theirs.
Patsy has Multiple Sclerosis and has several other physical struggles that she deals with. There isn’t too much she can do on her own at 59 or so. But Patsy is so loving, so positive. And so grateful. She comes each day because she needs care and her husband still needs to work. And he comes right away after work each day to pick her up. And they love each other so very much. And there is not much she can do for him anymore, but oh how he loves her – just for who she is. That is unconditional love, I’d say.
And then there’s Harriet. Funny Harriet. Ornery Harriet. She is a riot and has been known to raise quite a ruckus. I’ve never seen Harriet dance but today she did. Holding on to the nurse’s hands, she got down big time and we all laughed as she had the time of her life for a few minutes today, as that’s all the energy she had for the time being. She loves her little stuffed dog Flopsy and doesn’t go anywhere without him. Threaten to take him, as one older gentleman did, and you take the chance of getting a beating. She’s short and little but feisty indeed! And while she has a definite will of her own, she is sweet and has a great sense of humor.
Jack however, has no sense of humor and has threatened not only Harriet, but Flopsy as well and almost got hit upside the head one day for doing so. By Harriet. Jack doesn’t like being there and it’s quite obvious by the way his arms are always crossed as he sits in the recliner all day long. One day I asked him why he never danced. He said he didn’t like to dance and he never went to any of his proms, either. I asked him why he never went to any of his proms. He said because he didn’t like to dance. I asked him what his favorite part of being in the Navy was. He said going to all the different countries, of course, but the two that he really wanted to go to, he didn’t get to. Oh, he added, he also liked going to all the ports. I asked what he liked the best about all the different ports. He said it was the women. I then went on that day to see how Steven was doing!
Today I asked Jack how he was doing and he said not very well. He didn’t really look any different than the other times I’ve been there so I asked what was bothering him. He hated being there. I asked him why. “It’s a waste of a good eight hours.” I asked him where he’d rather be. “At home watching TV,” he responded. I wondered how that was different in regards to a wasted eight hours…. I then asked him how many years he had been married – 31. He said he didn’t have any kids – which he knew of. My cue to get up to visit Gina!
Rick was there today and I haven’t met him before. He slept most of the day. He was a kind, considerate older fellow. When Jean asked who he was, he told her he was her husband’s father. I think that made her more confused….
A few weeks ago someone wanted to eat lunch outside. It was a beautiful day and so we did but beforehand, Steven insisted it was a bad idea with snow on the ground. The others tried to convince Steven that there was no snow on the ground in the middle of July and 80 degree weather. Steven said if we went outside with him, he’d prove it by throwing a snowball at us. Then later he suggested that we go outside. I told him we couldn’t because he said there was snow out there and we’d freeze. He laughed and said I was crazy.
I haven’t seen Lulu for a few weeks. She is the sweetest little lady. She used to be an art teacher. She sits and draws beautiful pictures and writes as many different words as possible out of sentences to stay as alert as she can and sharpen her mind.
And then Renee is physically in tip-top shape but her memory has faded a lot. She has beautiful hair and loves to sing and dance and loves to hear the men come in and sing, especially the ones with lower voices. When Renee hears them sing, it is like being with someone who is experiencing something new for the first time. She is so excited and thinks it is all so wonderful.
Some days I feel like life is overwhelming. Some days are hard to get through. But then I go to the Center and I realize how good life is. Good because I have so much. And one thing I have is the gift of having these dear people in my life. It makes days easier to get through and you realize - it could always be worse. But today, it isn’t.