Reflections: Alzheimer's and Life
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou
**The unedited version ~ Simply because I put it off til the last minute...
Life has a way of giving us what we need, even if at the moment we don't see it that way. Every story is a gift, even those we consider lessons. Moments are meant to be treasured, both the good and not so good. Above is one of my favorite quotes, and today it seemed to stick to my heart just like the woman who taught me every day for 5 years, how true it is.
I wish the world could know more NONI'S. That was her nick name, her real name was Joan. Even saying it outloud to myself sounds a bit foreign because I only knew her as Noni. A world traveler, an avid reader, a savvy business woman, an incredible pianist, an equestrian, wife, mother, sister, aunt, and to me a client who soon became a friend, role model, and an amazing power of inspiration.
Myself and an incredible small group of co-workers were blessed with taking care of Noni, 24/7 for over 5 years. We supported her daily routine, helping to keep her in her home, and not have to go into a facility for Alzheimers. That horrific disease ran deep in her family, affecting her mom and her brother. It had left it's unfortunate mark on Noni, but despite her disease, she was a blessing to be around almost all of the time.
What the disease took was her ability to communicate often the most easiest conversations. Her liscense. Her ability to remember friends. How to cook. Take care of her beloved golden retriever, Easy and her two precious cats, Sunshine and Sasha. It took a lot! Memories, her grandchildrens names, the way to the store she had been going to for 50 years, the fact that her husband had passed away about 3 years before. Eventually she began to ask when her mom and dad were coming home. And through all of it, she never once lost her ability to LOVE everyone! It friggen amazed me some days. She would slip some days, and use the "F" word in a bout of frustration, and through the tears would look at me, and tell me "I didn't always use to be this way." It still makes me cry when I think of who she was, who she became, but even more so....Who she was deep down inside never left.
When she would get flustered, it was as simple as, a smile, a gentle hug, and sometimes "Hey Noni, How about a piece of chocolate?" The frustration was all but forgotten and she was herself once again. Gentle, peaceful, loving, vibrant and happy! The internal soul of this woman was so genuine, that no matter how much this disease physically and mentally deteriorated her, her truest self always stayed.
In my heart is where Noni will always be, for the way that she touched my life just simply being around her. After years of being with her daily, she began to forget what my name was, but when I walked into her house it didn't matter. Her smile was an instant give away, that despite her forgetting who I was, she knew how I made her feel. Safe, loved, cared for, and happy. Her smile was a testemant that we forget what people say and do, but we don't forget how they make us feel. In the darkest hours of Alzheimers, people rely more on feelings, gut instint, and trusting their heart than they do their memories.
Maybe years down the road, I too, will forget exactly what Noni did, or said but I certainly will never forget what she taught me or more how she made me feel. In her presence I always felt treasured, like a life long friend. A girlfriend to go have coffee with, and laugh at silly things we saw. I will never forget the fear I had of horses until she introduced me to Axel, her gentle giant, and now I'm much more comfortable with those amazing giants. When I am listening to classical, it will always warm my heart, and I know I will smile, because somehere in my mind will be a memory of her playing for me. The beach will always provide tranquility, because it was a life long sanctuary that we both cheriched growing up.
Our relationship was such a dynamic win/win. Of all I learned, the two most profound pieces of gold are:
Leave everyone feeling blessed.
What works today, may not work tomorrow. Always think out of the box.
That's how life is with this disease. But despite the emptiness I sometimes feel, I couldn't imagine having been left with two of the greatest gifts by the most amazing lady I have been blessed to know.
When I leave this planet, I want to go leaving everyone with warmth and sunshine. Isn't that how we all should live each day?