On Monday morning, I approach the locked gate, ring the bell, and a friendly voice responds, “Reminiscence!” I state my father’s name, and the voice over the speaker says, “Come in.” Going into the memory care unit, I sign in and walk down the hall and see a familiar face, sitting in his transport chair in the hallway who smiles broadly. I say, “Hi, dad. How are you?”
Other residents are sitting in the activities’ room listening to the Activities Director going through some information about the discovery of the planet Pluto, a “mind” exercise activity, some residents seem to be paying attention, other residents are sitting in the room inhabiting their own quiet worlds and space. Others are watching TV in their rooms, asleep in a chair or working with a physical therapist.
The attendants on staff are attentive to the residents and come when I call for dad’s immediate needs. There is a lot of activity going on for the 28-30 residents, some women are getting their hair done, sitting outside, or quietly passing the time. It is another world, to enter into memory care, where people have lost some of their former abilities, whether or not they can speak clearly in coherent sentences or just smile.
Dad and I make our way to an alcove where I pull up a table and we play a round of cribbage. He has trouble remembering his pegs are red and mine are green, but he counts the points better and quicker than I can, noticing runs or two or three of a kind when playing a hand to thirty one. Dealing the cards he takes a few moments longer, making sure that each of us has six cards, we each discard two, and then play the four in our hands. He wins the game, three out of three over three days.
His memories sometimes jumble together coming out in a way that may be coherent to him, and we sort through the threads. I put the board away, we go back to his room, and he asks several questions about finances that I answer and then notices he wasn’t shaved that morning. I ask the attendant to unlock the drawer in the bathroom and pull out his electric razor and shave his face, when I am done, I say “How does that feel dad?” Fine, he says. “Now you are ready for the rest of the day,” I said.
He is very grateful for all that we do with him and for him. I believe he is grateful for the staff and we wish that his positive demeanor persists, but sometimes he becomes agitated and says things we would not normally say to others –the prudent filters are sometimes not there.
I don’t stay long because long visits tire him out, I can deprive him of those random naps that accompany those senior in years.
Before lunch, we part, I tell him that I love him, until I see him again. He won’t remember some of the visit though he talks about his family to the staff – often. The fourth commandment says, “Honor your mother and father.” After those first years of life when a week of neglect from our parents could deprive a baby of the gift of life, it is challenging but important to honor them, even when they are more like children themselves. In the month of October we are called to respect life from conception to death. May God give us the strength to be patient, loving and kind especially to those who are advanced in years.
Blessings – Fr. Larry Hendel, Pastor