Alzheimer's blog

Life lessons from a caregiver

By Angela Lunde September 8, 2010

Thank you for your responses to creativity and dementia. I enjoyed checking out the "The Poetry Project," "Timeslips" and the documentary "I Remember Better When I Paint." I loved reading that creativity can be as simple as decorating cupcakes!

Today, I was reminded of Gail. I met Gail when she and her husband participated in Memory Club — an early stage education and support program for persons with early stage dementia and their support partner. A few years into her disease, I began to visit Gail most weeks at her home where she lived with her husband, Don.

Gail and I would go on outings — to the park, movies, musical concerts, art center, or out to lunch.  After a while, it became more difficult to take Gail out and we would spend our time together in her home. We often looked at old family photos or the mail she received that week. Sometimes we would make cookies or I'd give her a pedicure.

But for Gail, it was when I put music in the stereo and held out my hand that she and I really connected. Gail and I would move to the music, we'd smile and laugh at each other (and ourselves). Although the living room drapes were closed, I often wondered what sort of shadows we made to the passersby. We'd stop only when we were too out of breath to continue. What a splendid memory.

In my archive of writings I've received from caregivers over the years, here's one I found from Gail's husband, Don. Gail and Don's life lessons on patience, humility, resilience and love still resonate with me.

By Don:

I have always believed that behind every cloud there is a darker, more ominous cloud. My wife, however, is different. She is optimistic, upbeat, and positive nearly all the time. Since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, she has remained happy most of the time. I wanted to ask my wife, Gail, if she could see any good coming from her illness.

Gail: How long have I been this way?

Don: You were diagnosed with probable Alzheimer's disease four years ago.

Gail: Only four years. Well, I think we are closer.

Don: We do love each other more. Why do you think that is?

Gail: We are like Mutt and Jeff. We are together all of the time.

Don: I put you and your needs ahead of my own. When I get up in the morning, my first thoughts are: "What can I do to help Gail? What does she need to start the day?" What other good has come from you having Alzheimer's disease?

Gail: You give me more hugs. You make me feel like a Queen every day.

Don: I wouldn't go that far, but I do think that I have given out more hugs in the last few years than I have the entire rest of my life. I am an adequate caregiver.

Gail: You are the best caregiver in the world! You just bring love and kindness; you radiate goodness, whether it's bringing me tea, or helping me get dressed, I know that you are there for me. There are a lot of good caregivers out there, but Michael is the best.

"Life is not the way it's supposed to be.
It's the way it is.
The way you cope with it.
Is what makes the difference."
- Virginia Satir

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Sep. 08, 2010