Disappearing of a Man

I visited an elderly client yesterday with advance dementia. He had come back from the dentist and had a tooth extracted. There was still blood on his lips.

I kissed his forehead although immediately by his gaze I could tell he didn’t recognize me.

“How are you feeling after your dentist appointment?” I asked while holding his hand. I had knelt to his eye level.

“I haven’t gone to the dentist.” He answered confused.

“Oh, darling! My bad. I thought you went out today.” I smiled.

“I did,” he said. “I went on a drive through the mountains. (He paused)…with you!”

I smiled and hugged him.

We haven’t gone out on a drive in months because he has not been well. But at that moment he remembered me just a little bit. I don’t correct them when they share. I go with the flow and we return to the moment again.

I sat with him until he felt an ache in his mouth and asked if I would come back another day. I hugged and kissed him. I told him that I would.

“But you promise to come see me again, right?!” He asked like a little boy.

“I will, darling.”

I had to go to the facility’s restroom and let the heartache come out. I sat in there and cried. He has declined so much. And to witness his confusion is usually not this drastic. It’s life. It’s his life. And he’s pretty much alone except for the staff and me. He has me and will continue to have me for however long he needs a friendly smile.

I have learned so much working with dementia clients. I have learned to be mindful and present. I have learned to go with the flow. I have learned to embrace the moments of joy and laughter because they do disappear quickly. I have learned so much from each one of my elderly folks. I have heard stories of love, loss and regrets. I’ve been present when they return to another era and I get to be transported there through their words and actions. Sometimes it’s been like being inside of a time machine. Because…whenever they go back in time they are right there. And I can ask about smells, colors, music and feel their hallucinations as strongly as them. We get to feel the moments together.

They are aha moments. For both of us.

My life has been enriched by these powerful moments. I’ve been truly blessed by the connections that will forever be a part of my own stories.

Take advantage of your mental health today. Right now. Feel the blessings for being here. Tomorrow is not promised. I love you.

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Gentle Visit

I went to see a client Saturday with my little boy. Walking in through the halls of the facility little elderly ladies came out to touch and kiss him. I walked into my client’s room. He was lying on the bed and had just eaten breakfast.

He’s hard of hearing. Won’t wear his hearing aids. I can’t really talk with him but I let him talk all he wants. He just needs to be heard. He fell in love with my 18 month old while believing he was a little girl.

“Oh I would spoil you rotten, sweetheart!” He said while touching his cheeks. He kept saying sweet things to him, reminiscing of another era.

He made room for us on his bed and we sat side by side. He kept talking about his little girl (which I was unaware he ever had). At one point he got emotional and a tear rolled down his cheek.

My little boy stared at him and reached his tiny hand to his face to stop the tear. My heart melted. I felt a connection beyond his years.

My client put his forehead against his and together they sat there for a brief moment transfixed in their divine knowing.

His roommate started to cry as well. And I recognized that all we really want is touch and to be seen. We just want to know someone sees all of us. We want to feel loved and understood.

I grabbed his hand in mine as I held my baby boy with the other. He dropped his head towards mine and my baby laid his head against my chest.

Several generations being held by silence.

No words ever exchanged from me. He can’t hear. And all he said over and over was that his world was full of joy this morning. He never asked who I was. He didn’t have to. His dementia tells him another story. I never try to correct it…I am just there for whatever shows up.

I hope you reach out to those who aren’t able to understand. I pray you allow the magic to show up without judgment. Watching their exchange gave me hope for deeper empathy and compassion.

It’s there. We are there rising above it all. I love you. I see you. I feel you. We are all connected. ~m.a.p.

Dancing in the Rain

The yummiest part of my day was taking my sweet elderly client to the Botanical Gardens. We walked slowly and cautiously on the trail. It was about to rain. He was concerned. I asked, “What would be bad about getting a little rain on us? It’s so wonderful, you know! It’s just water. I can get you back in the car and to the facility in ten minutes!”

He sighed. He smiled. “Well, you are right. I haven’t played in the rain since I was a child.”

“Well then it’s time. If it rains we can sit here and bathe under the forest!”

There was silence. I watched the wheels turning…a reprogramming of thoughts and beliefs.

He sat in deep ponder. He looked out to the creek. He gasped and shared his gratitude in a way that made me cry. I held his hand in mine taking in a mental input of the moment.

“I forget how fast 85 years have come and gone. And I still choose to live so rigid in my military thoughts.”

“Yeah, there isn’t time for that. I say we stay here and dance slowly under the rain!” I said giggling.

We waited. The rain never arrived. Just whispers from the heavens. But we were determined to dance under it so I allowed him to just twirl me for a second slowly on the grass. He showed me the most generous amount of presence.

My heart seemed to be in rhythm with the world around us.

Now you…go find joy in the simple things. You don’t have to follow such severe rigid rules. You are an adult. You get to be in bliss through the simplest ways like chasing a squirrel or butterfly….it might lead you into magic. ~m.a.p.

The Photographer

This morning I went to retrieve personal items from a new client’s home who is now in a facility. Before everything goes to auction personal things need to be taken to him. I went in expecting the worst…complete chaos, disorder, and whatever else shows up when you deal with elderly clients stricken with dementia and brain injury.

It was surreal to see the neatness and orderly of this man. Things were picked up and left as when he was sent to the hospital. He was a photographer. I don’t know if this is what he did as a profession. He had cameras and other equipment around the house. There were pictures on the wall of some places but nothing personal. I searched for something…a story. I looked throughout his apartment for photos of a woman or a man or a dog. I craved to see love and loss because those are the colors of our lives. There were no albums or letters or anything indicating the existence of living there for twenty years. There were no footprints of his life. His drawers neat, his bedroom with a twin bed and two small nightstands. But, over all there was no proof of his journey which deeply saddened me as I scurried through his things.

He has no one. He now has a guardian. He has a staff at a facility. He has no legacy of folks who will sit with him and share his personal stories.

I sigh. Deeply and profoundly.

He is a sweet gentleman whose memories are being wiped clean. We wanted him to have something that he could hang onto. I found several old cameras and I grabbed them while leaving the expensive equipment to be sold in auction.

I retraced his life…I tried to desperately look for something that allowed a glimpse into his history. I searched through his cabinets noticing the placement of things as if he was photographing them…stacked and in rows.

What does this say about his life? Beneath all the minimalism there are stories of his likes and dislikes, his hobbies, his desires to see the world…. I don’t know. I can fill in the gray areas. I returned to the office with a car loaded of bare minimums. I don’t know if he enjoyed his life. I don’t know if he loved deeply. I don’t know anything about him except his cameras and the lenses…without traces of how he really viewed the world. My only clue is that he saw life through black and white with compositions of movement in orderly fashion.

Never Too Late

I visited my elderly client who is under hospice care this morning. She was asleep in a wheelchair in the hall of the facility. I grabbed another wheelchair and sat in front of her.

She woke to my touch. “Hello, darling! How are you?”

Disoriented she looked at me and said that she was okay but didn’t like where she was at. She went on to complain until I smiled and asked her a few questions. She nodded then and agreed it wasn’t so bad. Her dementia has progressed significantly the last month as she is transitioning. She even said she was waiting for me but she has no clue who I am.

“Tell me something new, my love?” I asked.

“I was at a concert yesterday. The entire day. They played black people music.” Her blue eyes opened widely.

“What’s black people music?” I asked waiting for some logical answer. She has been a racist all of her life and extremely feisty. She’s been verbal about it. But today I saw change.

“You know…black music!”

“You mean, like soul music….Music that gets into your soul and makes you move with the best beat?”

“I guess. They asked me if I wanted to stay and I told them I was happy to. I needed that music.” In the midst of her delusion “they” are people of authority. She continued explaining how the music made her feel. She kept sighing and sharing the lightness in her body.

It was absolutely delightful to witness this. Her story was fascinating.

I got off the wheelchair and dropped to my knees in front of her. She touched my cheek. I rubbed her hands. I kissed her soft skin.

“Oh sweetheart, I feel that’s heaven. Don’t you? There must be soul music up there. I like to believe that there is the sound of black people jazzy music in the afterlife. I want to believe there is some Louisiana symphony that makes you come alive….”

She interrupted me, “Yessss! I want that. I want to dance to black people music in heaven. Oh yesss!” Her eyes tearing with such loving awareness. It was pure yumminess. And a gift of awareness for me.

Folks, it’s never too late to have a change of heart. It’s never too late to change your ways. It’s never too late to accept the world and rejoice in diversity. Ohmygosh….to witness this woman transform before her death and allow herself the acknowledgment of equality is huge. She’s 85. It’s never ever too late.

I walked out listening to the sounds of soul music from heaven. She’s ready to go home. I hear the trumpets playing….

~m.a.p.

Courage to Connect

I visited my elderly client today. He is super shy at 85. Every time I get to the facility I find him alone in his room with the door close. I took him out for a ride which was delightful even with all the rain. We stopped at McDonalds and he had a strawberry shake. He said he hadn’t drank one in decades. He talked about drive-in movies and shakes and other super sweet memories.

In one of our many conversations, as he struggles with memory lapses, I asked him if he was always this shy? He said he was. Then he looked at me and asked if I was always this courageous. I laughed.

“Courageous? At what?”

“At speaking out. At going up to people and talking to strangers? I bet you have always been this way.”

I admitted that as a child I was super shy. In my teens I would talk to everyone but something happened after I had my two sons in my twenties. My light went out. I allowed my partner and those around me to dictate my worth.

I told him it isn’t about courage. It’s about living fully. It’s about connections. It’s about overcoming worth issues and showing up in the presence of another.

Something touched him. His eyes watered and I stopped talking and hugged him.

Then I grabbed him by the arm and took him to another man’s room who is a sweetheart. This man is just beyond yummy. They eat meals together but both are shy and won’t “hang out.” I left them in Walt’s room. Whether he left right after or not is not important. He stayed long enough. And that to him is courageous.

Darlings…Be vulnerable. Be brave. Be whatever label you place on yourself but get out there and join another. We are here for that!

Laughter Heals

I visit my 85 year old. He’s having lunch with three other men. I grab a chair and sit next to him and a sweet gentleman name Walter.

My client asks, “Why are you here to see me? I know you’ve told me but I can’t remember!”

I make something up about being part of a welcoming committee making sure they are well taken care of at the facility. (This way he doesn’t start to question why he needs a guardian).

My client: “Does a woman like you have a husband?”

Walter breaks his silence, “uh oh!”

I ask, “A woman like me?”

My client: “A woman galavanting to see elderly men. What kind of man lets his wife do this?” He is smiling. I am laughing.

“My husband is at home with our kid….”

He interrupts and says, “If you were my wife I wouldn’t let you out of my sight!”

Walter says, “And that’s why she’s not with you!”

I laugh loudly. So loud that the place goes quiet. All those falling asleep over their plates are woken up. The table starts to rattle with laughter.

Laughter fills the crevices. My client starts to truly show me his sense of humor. I tell him that he’s my favorite. He smiles and says, “I bet you tell everyone that!”

Walter looks at me and says, “I hope one day I can become one of your favorites.” He doesn’t know it but today he has been bumped up to the top of the list. And we just met.

Folks…go make laughter. Go share your joy. It’s freaking contagious. I had me a ball sitting at that table with four lovely elderly men who don’t speak to each other. They gifted me with generosity and I amped up their reason for needing a nap when I left. They used all their reserved energy to laugh. Pure bliss!