Over the past year or so, God has given me a heart for the elderly. This January, I really wanted to get involved in a ministry, so I signed up for VolunteerMatch’s email list and started sending out inquiries to local care programs.
I ended up becoming a memory care friend—and this was definitely a God thing given what happened next. Being a memory care friend consists of spending time with people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, giving them care and companionship while offering their caregiver a break.
This is very fulfilling and fun work at times. It is also harder than I expected.
Days before I went to serve at my first memory care group event, I learned that my grandpa had been admitted into a care facility for his Alzheimer’s. The transition has not gone smoothly, and it’s been very troubling for my grandparents and the entire family.
So I went into the memory care meeting with a whole new context for the disease. Doing the training was one thing, but now it was personal. I had a vague concept of what Alzheimer’s meant from the training and general knowledge. However, seeing it impact my family was so sad. My grandpa was the joker, the sweet one, the one who loves ice cream. He always likes things just right. He was never confused. The truth was that I had no idea how bad things had gotten. It had been too long since I’d been to see my grandparents and now I felt terrible about that.
The first day of my memory care experience was tough. I was new and ended up being matched with the person (S) who had perhaps the most difficulty participating in the event.
S had trouble following along with the activities and flat out couldn’t do several of them. She also wasn’t much of a talker that particular day, so I felt lost. Most of the morning was spent in awkward silence. I tried to help her as best I could, but there was so little she could manage. Was I hopeless at this? How was I going to connect with my grandpa now? What was I doing wrong?
Thankfully, things got better. The next time, S was much more herself. She was talkative and took part in the activities as best she could. I also realized that she’s pretty deaf so part of the problem was that she just couldn’t hear anything I was saying last time.
Then I realized my mistake. I had been so concerned with following the care guidelines and not making her uncomfortable that I wasn’t responding to her as an individual. What were her specific needs? She couldn’t hear me. She needed help walking but not too much. She’s still the same woman she was before the disease—it’s just more difficult for her to shine through. I need to keep that in mind with grandpa. He’s still at the stage where he remembers his loved ones, and that is a huge blessing . . . mostly. It also means my grandma has to constantly tell him why he can’t just come home.
The next memory care visit was so much more enjoyable for S and me. We smiled and laughed more; we even did a crossword, with some help from yours truly. It was a relief to see that there could be such a difference based on the day, at least in S’s case. It leaves hope for everyone involved that tomorrow will be better.
I’m still hoping that tomorrow will be better for grandpa, even though things are not going well. He’s so focused on getting back home to my grandma that he can’t settle. He also has very little interest in the activities at the home.
I visited grandma this weekend. She was so happy to see my sister and I, but decided that we shouldn’t see grandpa yet. She said it would be too upsetting for us, and I wanted the decision to be hers. She is kind of lost without him, and it was hard for me to see that. My grandpa and grandma were always together. It’s so strange—and tragic—to think of them forced to live separately, even though I know it’s the best thing for them both right now.
I am confident that, even amid this trial, God has a plan. He will provide. I keep praying my grandpa will have just one day like the last day I spent with S. I know my grandma needs it as much as he does.
I’ll leave you with this Spring haiku—a bit of hope—composed by the memory care group clients at our last gathering:
Flowers blossom sweet.
They are very feminine.
She is beautiful.
Isn’t it amazing that even though their brains are confused in some ways, these individuals are still able to create a work of art? I find it remarkable and soothing. All is not lost. There is hope. God is good. And flowers are sweet.