I walked into the room and Mary’s gaze swept over me and beyond. My heart skipped a little and I wondered if this was it.
My self-talk as I approach the care facility is continual preparation for the inevitable. I remind myself of our conversation a couple of years ago when she asked me, “What will you do when I don’t recognize you?”
“I’ll try not to take it personally,” I replied.
But will I ever be ready?
Today I breathed a sigh of relief when she looked at me again, focused on my face, and broke into a delighted smile. “Y-y-you’re here!” she stuttered.
Yes, I’m here. And she is present for yet another visit and in better physical shape than the last time I saw her. Some days she is sleepy and lethargic, hardly able to walk from her room.
Today we walk outside. We wander up and down a hall. And we dance.
Mary loves music. A few weeks ago I brought her an old phone loaded with her favorite playlists. It connects to the communal sound system and we can sit in chairs close to the speakers as I watch her blissful departure into the musical memories. Other residents sit and listen, too.
Today I brought my bluetooth speaker because I want her to myself. (I don’t want to be distracted or feel guilty for not including the others who cluster nearby.) In her room I drag the two easy chairs close together. I take our shoes off and encourage her to put her feet on my chair, mirroring my position. She is happy to sit facing me. Ready for whatever is next. She claps her hands when the music begins. “Louder,” she gestures.
And so we weave and wave to the arias of Verdi and Puccini. When she looks at me expectantly I help her to her feet. It’s time to do our crazy version of a romantic waltz on the carpeted floor of her little studio room. Nothing matters. She is in the opera – transported to Madrid where we first watched La Traviata.
Then we switch to Spotify and listen to the songs of the late forties and her memories turn to the ballrooms of her youth. “String of Pearls” and “In the Mood” have her jitterbugging and twitching her hips joyfully.
“I’m gonna die,” she pants, ready for another of our frequent rests.
I assure her that we can dance sitting down, and once more we are facing each other, holding hands, waving to the beat or weaving to and fro with the romance in her head.
I am not ignorant of the progression of Alzheimers. I have witnessed it in my family and in my volunteer work. I’ve had inservice classes, learning the best ways to be with someone whose memories are fading with the breakdown of their mind and body. And I know the day is coming.
That’s why I am always so grateful to have had another day of joy with my friend Mary.
*If you have friends or family with dementia, watch the documentary, “Alive Inside”. It will change your visiting times together.