I came into my local favorite coffee shop to work on blog posts and do some research for other projects. I often do this as there are (actually) fewer distractions than at home. I’m sitting near the self-serve station for sugar and creamer and getting into my writer’s brain when an older gentleman approaches to doctor his coffee. He greets me and we exchange pleasantries.
When I speak with seniors who make negative comments about how their day is I often say “Well you’re out and about under your own steam, you must be doing pretty well.” This often gets a smile and change of attitude. It did for this gentleman.
He came in for some coffee while his wife was getting a massage next door. We chatted a little more about nothing special but he started struggling for a word and got frustrated. He explained to me that his doctor had put him on a medication that has messed with his short term memory and then said if it became the real thing then he wanted to just die. He said that he didn’t want to live when he couldn’t remember who he was.
I looked at him and explained that I care for seniors as my profession and specialize in dementia care. I told him that while it is true you may forget about some of the people in your life that you never completely forget who you are. It’s always there, at least some of who you are.
I told him about my dad. Dad was bed bound and completely non-verbal, non-responsive to anything other than stimulus-response. Still, when I walked into his room and called out his name he would grunt and move his head in the direction of the sound of my voice (the grunt was a typical guy-type grunt of acknowledgement).
I also told this gentleman that Dad had been in the Marine Corps and when I would play a CD with marching cadences Dad’s feet would tap like he was marching. The gentleman perked up when he heard my dad had been a Marine, he too had been in the Corps.
We joked about the fact that Dad would “march” and how if you’re a Marine you’ll always be a Marine.
I brought up the fact that sometimes I would say something funny and he would giggle. One time in particular his hospice nurse had brought more bandages for the pressure sore he had on his tailbone. I told him that I was going to change his butt band-aid – and he giggled.
I told the gentleman that although the disease took much from him and us, it never fully robbed him of the essence of his humanity. He knew his name, he recognized his service in the Marine Corps and he could still laugh at something funny.
He looked at me with relief on his face and just said “I’m glad I spoke with you.”
I’m glad he did too.