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Hold on to the memories

April 12, 2010

by Jenni Sebora

A few weeks ago, I sat at a church service in front of a woman who I had not seen in a long time. I greeted her, but she did not respond. I soon came to realize that she must be living with Alzheimer’s disease.

I felt saddened for her and her family. I knew what they were all experiencing. My father lived with Alzheimer’s the last couple of years of his life.

I believe that it is one of the most debilitating illnesses because it changes who a person is physically, socially, emotionally, communicatively, and cognitively.

My father came to the point when his brain could not send messages to his body to talk, eat, or do all of those natural body functions. He had to be fed, clothed, and bathed. He could not communicate to us what he needed or desired.

I would sit with him and sing his favorite hymns and songs to him. I would read Bible passages to him and newspaper articles to him. I would look in his eyes, and deep within those eyes he was communicating a sense of “I am here; please know I am.” That is why my visits to him never stopped. He needed me, and I needed him.

I believe, in the last years of his life, he especially showed me, as well as my mom, what really mattered – we need each other. They were both retired and no longer had to live with the stress of everyday work and chores and really focused on those most important things in our lives.

As my father lived the last couple of years in a senior care center due to his Alzheimer’s, he no longer was surrounded by the things of his house, but a few of his most precious belongings and pictures. He had a rocker in his room that belonged to him, handkerchiefs, his Bible, his hymnal, his watch, clothes, and some family pictures.

What he looked forward to most, as is with most, if not all, residents living in the same circumstances, are visits from loved ones.

As time moved on, he could no longer walk to the window to watch for our familiar cars and faces. He could no longer write notes that detailed where he was in the center so he and we would not miss each other.

He could no longer speak verbally to tell us in words what he wanted us to know. And he could no longer laugh and laugh with his whole body as he once did. His smile would span from ear-to-ear and his shoulders would lift and shake.

His laugh would permeate through his whole body, rumbling inside and then pouring outward. It just made you feel good watching him in laughter. It was like he was experiencing whatever it was someone was sharing with him in joy.

As I sat in front of the woman at the service, those thoughts of my father came flooding back to me. I knew all too well what the family was going through as this woman’s husband sat next to her.

My hope for their family is that their memories of their wife, mother, and grandmother will remain forever with them and will remind them that although she is no longer communicating and responding as she once was, she is there, and that she needs them and they need her.