Dementia Duty

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I have been on Dementia Duty the past 5 extended weekends.  My 89 year old Aunt Pat lives in the same town as my brother, Jeff.  Her primary caretaker, my cousin Ellen, is in Europe for 5 weeks.  I pack up and head 1-1/2 hours north, for 3 days.

As I remember, my Aunt has been grumpy since I was a kid, and her new state doesn’t seem to help.  I don’t think I have ever met anyone who always says NO TO EVERYTHING.  She remembers very little, rarely engages in conversation except for a polite yes and no, and takes 9 pills per day.  In the evenings, I go for a walk with Jeff’s wife, Pam, and their dog, Seamus.  Franklin is a beautiful little town and I like to spend that time with Pam.  One evening Pam said: I always remember Pat as being so sweet.  And honest to God, it felt like shockwaves going through my system.  Aha, always a sign that there is something for me to look at.

I spent the evening looking at MY thoughts about Pat, and then, whew a helluva lot of atoning for what I was seeing.  The story in our family is that Pat was the  “catch” of Rocky Grove.  Beautiful, smart and the perfect 1950’s housewife.  She married my Uncle Bob (Ellie’s brother) and he was a very successful but seemingly brutal (emotionally) alcoholic.  Everyone blames her shut down on him.  OK, it certainly appears true in the world.  I mean, look at her just sitting in front of the TV all day long, lots of money at her disposal but refusing to join in anything.

So, upstairs in my cousin’s apartment, I began another classroom of uh, Sally, maybe change your mind, it has worked every single time in the past, why wouldn’t it now?

And, sheesh, sure enough, when I went down to make her breakfast the next morning, Pat had grown a new head.  Not only was she excited that I had brought coffee, but she called me Honey and thanked me for coming to see her.  The first weekend when I would bring coffee, she would say no, she didn’t like it.  Some days she would take some, all the while insisting she didn’t like it.  The one day I didn’t bring it, of course she wanted it.

So, there you go, I changed my mind, and then things started flowing in that would not have been possible in my previous state.  I took her to dinner and was kind of blown away by her reaction.  Even though she said she didn’t want to go and at first refused to even look at the menu, she suddenly remembered that she loved that restaurant and their chicken Caesar salad.  Ding ding ding.

A plan began to unfold:  we would have coffee and muffins (and sometimes not-coffee) every morning, and then go out for dinner.  In that environment, we began to thrive.  Even getting her into the minivan became an adventure.  I told her to reach up (she is very tiny) and grab the “Pat Handle”, and then I would grab her butt and hoist her in.  It became known as our Rock and Roll Act.

One evening she said:  your Uncle Bob was a wonderful man who was very good to me.  Shit, Sally, back upstairs and change your Mind.  And it came quickly.  If that was her memory, it would become mine.  Poof. No more blaming Uncle Bob. How beautiful is this!  One more made-up memory up and out of my system.

We were at dinner one evening at the quaint little Franklin Airport.  One plane arrives, usually around 6:00.  The restaurant is all windows, and sits at the end of the runway. Everyone awaits the commuter from Pittsburgh, watch as a few passengers exit and then it is garaged for the evening.  Somehow quite thrilling.  Pat said to me: did you know Wanda Shufstall?  I said, well the name sounds kind of familiar.  She went on to tell me that Wanda was my Mom’s age (5 years younger than Pat and Bob), she was a cheerleader and that she had died.  I was shocked at this information, not because I knew Wanda, but wondering how in the hell Pat knew that.

Pam and I walked that evening and I was re-telling the Wanda story.  Pam asked me if maybe Pat read the local newspaper.  I said, I had not thought of that, I will ask her tomorrow.

The next morning I asked Pat if she had the local newspaper delivered.  She said she didn’t know.  I said, well, yesterday you told me that Wanda Shufstall had died.  She looked so sad and shocked, and replied:  She did?  Huh, there you go.

January is now over, my cousin has returned, and my life is beautifully enriched.  Through my Aunt’s fogginess, she and I reached out and became the most compassionate buddies.

I changed my Mind, and in that space, she graciously extended what she was capable of.  At the age of 89, she has gifted her only niece with the thing I needed most in my life, at this time.


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When you are talking to Sparkle, miracles happen. Her erudite and profound way of getting to the bottom of what it is we are believing is second to none. I've watched as Sparkle listens to someone and finds a way of getting exactly to where that person needs to see from, just by being her wonderful and intuitive self. Her name fits her perfectly, this sparkling ray of light has blessed so many with her humorous musings, which hide profound trusts, all wrapped up in a giggle or three. Sparkle is simply love on legs. Time spent in the company of this gorgeous soul can only bring more joy into anyone's life.

- Ley Blythe from England

The thing that differentiates you (Sally) from others, is that you do not go out to people with an agenda, but with unconditional love. I still cannot describe the state I was in when you visited Switzerland. I felt as if I were in a state of flow and blissful happiness. I want to learn from you how one can live like this every day.

-Mike from Lausanne, Switzerland