“Count it all joy, my brothers [and sisters], when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. “James: 1:2-4
Joy is that deep-rooted feeling that uplifts my caregiver’s heart whenever I see my mother interacting with other residents, visitors, family and friends: smiling, laughing, and talking about happier days. The biggest gift anyone can give to a person with dementia is your presence. Your presence pushes back the fog for a little while and allows them to keep their brain cells active, a reminder of their ongoing life.
My mother’s quality of life is enriched by visitors who provide her with numerous opportunities to glimpse into her past life. Their presence, smiles, hugs, and ordinary conversation push against the dementia induced brain fog to her core, allowing her to experience events in real time while reconnecting with people from her past. Her eyes twinkle. She becomes animated and her smile lights up the room. For the duration of the visit, she discusses past events, some with total recall and some incidents confused, but still accessible.
For a few days after visitors come, my mother’s memory continues to improve. Her outlook is more upbeat and she telephones people she hasn’t thought about for a while. Most recently, Janice Charles traveled from California to Rockford to visit family and friends and decided her visit would not be complete without a side trip to the nursing home to visit Mrs. Box. Janice, her sister and another family friend, dropped in for a surprise visit. My sister, Gwen left work early and we shared lunch and laughter. After hours of “do you remember”, the excitement bounced off the walls as old stories were rehashed. Because of the sharing and laughter-filled visit, her visitors unlocked closed doors and gave her more memories to grab a hold of. Several days later, my mother was still reminiscing about their visit and reinforcing those connections in her mind.
When her pastor brings her communion, the bread and wine bolsters one of the greatest Christian rituals: As often as you do this, do in remembrance of me. For the duration of Pastor Johnson’s visit, she remembers her many church related activities. He brings flowers and gifts, and my mother always asks about his daughter: one of her strongest memories is of the little girl she watched grow up in Allen Chapel AME Church.
Longevity and steadfastness are the hallmarks of my mother’s life. She spent her life investing in others, being a cheerleader, a confidante and a good friend. Even now, she still has joy in the small things. BINGO. Word search puzzles. Bible trivia and summertime outdoor activities. Not so much in the physical therapy that would permit her to abandon the wheelchair for her walker and/or cane.
Whether we’re bringing her a home cooked meal or buying new clothes at the start of each season, my mother’s appreciative. Family pictures line the shelf in her room. We add new pictures as the great grandkids grow and always take snapshots of her with them when they come to visit.
My mother has developed a routine, a sense of normalcy. Her life-long characteristics of caring for people, laughing, and enjoying herself in any situation have made her transition to care easy. The staff report she is a joy to work with. She says thank you, banters with them, and when distressed says call Joyce or call Gwen.
Numerous small things happen regularly which make my mother feel included and still a part of what’s going on in the world rather than being isolated. Gwen assists with the Saturday Bingo game and helps her friends who often are engaging in too much chatter to hear the numbers. That gives my mother cool points with the staff and residents who ask if her daughters are coming for the weekly games.
My mother always comments about the ladies who send her bible tracts, cards. One lady has been sending her cards twice per month for the past four years. She reminds herself and us about the relationship she has with the sender. Again, another way to keep her memories intact. One of the reasons dementia patients decline is because people stop talking to them and instead either talk at them or treat them as if they are children instead of adults who’ve lost some, not all, of their brain functioning.
My mother was active during her first eighty-seven years. Now in her golden sunset, she is receiving blessings from family, friends, and strangers. I count it all joy—the righteous will not be forsaken.
Pictured above: Barbara Hammond, Damitta Lawson-Collier, Gwendolyn Lazard, Joyce Brown, Janice Charles, Marbline Box (Granny) in the wheelchair
-Joyce A. Brown
Joyce Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women. She graduated from Bradley University with a B.S. and M.A. Her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria, Illinois; and Battle Creek, Michigan. Joyce obtained a PhD from Western Michigan University.
She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and an entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in the contemporary fiction novels she pens.