She is losing ground to dementia. Memories are no longer shared and cannot be jogged to the forefront of her mind. It is becoming harder for her to assimilate words and concepts and so, coupled with impaired hearing, communication is very limited.
This lovely woman is still smiling. When I ask her if she is happy, she grins broadly, “Me, yes. How about you?
When I assure her that I am happy she looks at me and asks again, “Now where have you been?”
This means that she has finally associated me with the photo from her shelf that she holds on her lap and looks at intermittently. “Is this you?”
Somewhere in the process she has pulled forth the feelings that we have shared. She is affectionate and no longer puzzled. Although she can’t associate my name or remember that she was married to my father, she knows that she is pleased to have me there.
And she is sad when I begin to say goodbye.
This is when I discover more about myself. I blame the approaching storm as an excuse to get started on the long drive home. I can excuse myself my acknowledging that when I go out the door she will immediately forget I have been there and that I may return. Although my visit may have engendered some warm fuzzies and brightened her corner for the time being, she might not remember me if I did an about-face and returned to her room instead of leaving by the front door.
The truth is, I have exhausted my ability to be present with no feedback. I am not content to sit indefinitely on the bed across from her chair and know that there is nothing more I can say that is meaningful and/or understood. We have listened to her favorite songs without her recognizing much. We have held hands. We have played the puzzling game of “name what I forgot” at which I am no longer as successful as when I was with her every few days and knew what she was thinking.
I’m done. I don’t have what it takes. I must learn more lessons in being present, being still, being with.
*I am a new volunteer for the local hospice program.