July 10, 2016
I sat across the table from a social worker as she told her story. She had been at a nursing home early that afternoon.
“I spoke to the sister of the woman who is living in the nursing home. She told me her sister was a little agitated this day and wanted to get out of bed.” (Her sister had dementia in addition to an illness she was no longer fighting.).
“As we talked her sister was trying to get out of bed again. She turned to me and said, ‘would you watch her for a minute while I go get the nurse?’ Sure, I said.”
“As she walked out of the room I asked, ‘why do you want to get out of bed? Where are you planning to go?’ She said, ‘to the Tavern.’ About that time her sister returned with the nurse. ‘Why do you want to go to the Tavern?’ I asked. ‘To get a drink.’”
“The nurse smiled and said, ‘no problem.’ I finished my conversation with them and left, oh, maybe twenty minutes later. A few hours later, I called to see how things went after I left. The patient’s sister said, ‘very well. Not long after you left the nurse went to the store, bought a beer, brought it back, and give it to my sister. She LOVED it!’ That was all she needed, to be heard and to have a beer!”
Paying close attention to the landscape speaks to the need to accept there is much to hear, even when socially developed sensibilities say there is nothing to hear. You might say the songbird’s song is often more than a song.
The same holds for our human kin whom seem to live on the other side of what society might think of as presence. The other sided is seldom what it appears. Often there is a fullness of life even when it seems not. For the spirit of this existence is rich, even in the hardness of an individual not seeming to be who they were yesterday. Knowing such richness is accepting the change of life from the cognizant to dementia is as valuable and meaningful as a toddler moving from single words to full sentences. While it is certainly a struggle, at times, to be present with kin who live on the other side of what was yesterday’s normal, great joy is possible in the simple act of hearing and having a beer.