By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. My family and I will be on vacation through August 25. I will occasionally add new items but for the most part we will repost “the best of the best” — the stories our readers have told us they especially liked over the last ten months.
I lead an adult Sunday school class which includes a number of people in their late 30s and early 40s. As such there are many stories to share about elderly parents. I continue to be amazed by the many instances of incredible devotion and unstinting faithfulness.
Both my parents and my wife’s parents have passed on. But we still have the opportunity to reach out to members of the Greatest Generation.
For example, it seems like just yesterday that Lisa and I had the opportunity to grow close to an elderly lady in her last few months.
We were not officially “family,” so we weren’t told any of the medical details. But two things were obvious to anyone (including those members of my Adult Sunday school class who came to visit her and to love her): “Kay” (not her real name) had a mild-to-moderate case of dementia but nowhere near as severe as the staff thought.
In the last months of Kay’s life, I visited her most every day—to be a companion and to make sure she ate at least something. It wasn’t until after she died that I realized how much she reminded me of my mother, who passed away in 1992. Kay was vibrant, determined, and a hoot.
I remembering thinking of Kay when I read “Finding Joy in Alzheimer’s,” by Robert Leleux, that appeared in the New York Times. The essay was a sort of primer on his book, “The Living End: A Memoir of Forgetting and Forgiving.”
Naturally, Leleux’s experience with JoAnn (his grandmother who had Alzheimer’s) was a hundred times lengthier, more intense, and deeper than anything Lisa and I could have developed in our short time with Kay. But in his deeply affectionate essay, I could hear echoes of our experience with a woman who often confused me with a long-ago neighbor—but liked me all the more for bringing back memories of the old neighborhood.
I will not cheat you out of the pleasure of reading “Finding Joy in Alzheimer’s” by going into any detail. Let me just offer one quotation. Leleux writes
“I’d argue that, given our aging population and the Alzheimer’s epidemic, it’s essential that we reassess our thinking about the elderly and old age dementia. Certainly, a great deal of pain and hardship can accompany life’s third act (and, for that matter, any of its acts). But what I learned from my grandmother’s journey through Alzheimer’s was that my grief regarding her condition had largely to do with my failure to accept the change she was undergoing.
“Regardless of how I felt about it, JoAnn’s change was the truth. What was gone in her was not missing. And the more fully I understood that, the more present I was able to be during her final years. In that struggle to be present, to appreciate every minute spent ‘walking her to the garden gate,’ as we say back in Texas, JoAnn was once again my example. Like on that long-ago afternoon at the Houston art museum, she was still guiding my hand.”
In a matter of just a few months, Kay taught me many things, first and foremost was the deep misunderstanding of anyone who might say, “What’s the point? She won’t even remember that you had been there.”
Kay knew me when I was there, and appreciated every visit. I knew I had been there and was all the richer because I had the privilege of remembering for both of us.