Caregivers realize better than anyone else what Alzheimer’s steals from our loved ones.
Though all too aware we cannot succeed, we keep fierce watch, fighting to keep the disease at bay. Yet day by day we see it snatch away not only memory, but activity, relationship, expression—all the things that define our loved ones as the unique people they are.
But there’s another kind of watch caregivers keep, another kind of awareness we are specially equipped to maintain: the awareness of what remains. If we watch our loved ones with eyes focused on signs of their well-being, we’re blessed with glimpses of pleasure others might miss—like a simple conversation, enjoyment of a favorite meal, or the look in a loved one’s eyes that says “I see you” or “I like that.”
As caregivers, we sense the things that make those we care for happy. The things that give them peace. The things they’re grateful for.
So…we give thanks. On their behalf, and on our own.
He’s allowed to touch Mom when no one else can. On the very worst days, when everything inside her rebels against our efforts to help, she will stop fighting and sit with him—for hours. And he, expecting nothing, can eventually gain all that we hope for: her calm, her cooperation, her comfort. The wonder-worker is Charley-Dog, a silver miniature poodle, handsomely groomed about four times a year, the rest of the time as scruffy as Mom. He sleeps at her feet and when she stirs, the jangle of his collar alerts us. When Mom refuses to eat, the prospect of feeding Charley from her plate can induce her to accept a few bites herself. She always knows his name, never shouts at him, never turns away his affection. And she often tells him important things she won’t tell us, like where she hurts or what she wants or why she’s scared. Thank the Lord for Charley-Dog.
Potato chips are Mom’s favorite food. Even Charley doesn’t get a share of her chips. Too salty, too greasy, with insufficient nutritional value, they’re still a life-saver when she’s refused everything else all day. They’re also the ultimate distraction from imagined offenses I’ve committed. And they’re salty too, so Mom drinks more water when she eats them. If she could, Mom would thank You, Lord, for potato chips.
A smooth wooden rail is attached to the wall on Mom’s side of the bed. At least once a week, she calls it to my attention. At bedtime I walk at her side and she grips the rail, stopping a couple of times in the short, queen-size distance to run her finger along the grain of the oak. “See this, Child?” she asks me, looking intently at the rail. Then, turning her head to look just as intently at me, she says, “It’s new. Daddy made it for me. I love it.” At the last three words, her eyes smile, and sometimes her face does, too. I admire Dad’s handiwork anew each time, and thank the Lord Mom has noticed, she has explained, she has smiled one more time.
“Daddy.” Since my sister and I were born, that’s what Mom has called my father. I heard her use his given name only on the rare occasions when they argued in front of us. But now, even when she’s angry, if she calls Dad anything, she calls him “Daddy.” Maybe she doesn’t remember his name. But by the grace of God, she’s never forgotten him. She appears to understand that he belongs in the house, that he won’t hurt her, that she can trust him. When everything else in Mom’s world seems to be going awry, she reaches for Charley and calls for Daddy. And he’s always there. Always. To him she will always be beautiful, his best friend, his love. He will fight for her health, fight to make her happy, fight to keep her with him. Alzheimer’s has a formidable enemy in Daddy. Thank You, Lord, that he is her defender and she knows it.
Finally, Lord, I believe if she could Mom would thank You for me. On an almost daily basis, she shouts at me, ignores me, tells me to leave. But she also makes sure I see the birds on the birdfeeder, saves part of her cookie for me, and lets me bathe her every month or so. She never calls me by name anymore, but on some sweet nights after I’ve helped her to bed, she smiles up at me and says, “Child, I don’t know what I’d do without you.” And I answer, “Well, you never need to worry about that, Mama, ‘cause I’ll always be right here.” The look on her face tells me she believes me.
For that look and for Mom’s smiles, for all the things that still bring her comfort, and for showing me and Dad how to recognize her pleasure, I thank You, Father.
…Lord, make us truly thankful.
“Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.”
(1 Chronicles 29:13 NIV)