It is often that I hear people say that they don’t go to visit their loved ones anymore because “they won’t remember I was there anyway.” And to an extent, I can understand that statement, but I want to show you another side of the story.
When someone has dementia, the way she lives her life changes. Life becomes about reminiscing; talking about memories from long ago that can still be recalled. Many times people can’t form new memories because their short term memory is affected, so they may not recall new grandchildren or the fact that they are no longer able to live alone or even the fact that their loved ones visit them five days a week. This can be extremely upsetting for both parties involved, understandably so. But life also becomes about living in the moment.
Living in the moment means that you are present. You are aware right now. You are carrying on a conversation or sharing a feeling about something that is happening right at this moment. It is not about yesterday or about tomorrow or even about an hour from now. It’s just right now. And right now, in this moment, you are happy and you are enjoying your company and you are aware.
My mom goes to visit my grandmother in the nursing home at least 5 times a week. When she goes, my gram almost always asks her how she found her there. She typically says that she just got there (she’s been there 3 years), she also doesn’t know what day or time it is and sometimes she even has her bags packed because she is going home. Sure, it’s devastating and my mom will call me and tell me what happened and we talk through it and then we move on and look forward to another, better day.
Yesterday was one of those better days. Yesterday was my gram’s 86th Birthday. My mom arranged a nice little party for her with ice cream cake, iced tea, a cute table cover and matching utensils, cups and napkins. We went inside and found my gram sitting with her best friend, Phyllis and her daughter and her son-in-law. We alerted the staff that we were going to be taking gram and Phyllis outside and then we headed out to sit under the gazebo because it had finally stopped raining.
We set up our little party and started serving cake when my gram’s sister arrived from Binghamton and then my grams’ niece arrived and brought her husband outside to sit with us and then finally my gram’s favorite person, Tim, my mom’s boyfriend, came. Tim gave kisses to all the ladies and made their day. They couldn’t stop talking about it. We all sat outside as my gram enjoyed her ice cream cake and opened her gifts. She was so happy. She must have thanked everyone 30 times. And the best part was that she remembered why everyone was there.
She kept telling us that this was the best birthday and the best way to celebrate and that she appreciated everyone being there and she couldn’t believe how nice it was. Even though she said it so many times, we all just kept telling her that she was welcome and we were glad to be there and we were happy that the weather was so nice. She was living in that moment. We were living in that moment. We were present.
Whether or not Gram will remember everyone being there is not the point. Does it really matter if she remembers her party today? The truth is- no it doesn’t matter. The truth is that she had the best 86th birthday she could have asked for and that she enjoyed her family and friends and we enjoyed her. We don’t know whether or not there will be an 87th Birthday, but we know that her 86th was great because we were there celebrating with her in that moment.
The next time you feel that visiting doesn’t matter because your loved one won’t remember that you were there, remember that your loved one lives in the moment. Tomorrow doesn’t matter, but today does. Go today and you won’t regret it tomorrow. I promise.