When the Moment is all We have Left
In chemistry class, my senior year of high school, we had to complete a qualitative analysis on a test tube filled with liquid. The goal was to systematically test the sample to determine its content, differing from a quantitative analysis, which would have determined the quantity of what was found, or how much. After five attempts, all leading to the same but incorrect conclusion according to her, my chemistry teacher begrudgingly led the final charge, only to discover that my test tube had been mislabeled on her answer sheet. She was an awesome teacher, and in the end, when she had corrected my failing grade, we had a good laugh over it.
Now what could this possibly have to do with today's Blog post? Well, I’d bet the majority of us analyze our time using a quantitative method much more often than a qualitative one, the how much vs. pure content scale. Today, I’d like to show you a different way to measure time, specifically as it relates to visiting a loved one living with dementia.
As dementia progresses, due to the damage the brain experiences and along with a lot of other things, memories fade, attention spans shorten, and all sorts of distractions make focus seem almost impossible. Visits that use to be filled with hobbies, games, and conversation, may now seem of no value as recognition and communication fade. Rather than spending 30- or 45-minutes enjoying each other, visits may consist of picking up and bringing back the laundry, or popping in for a visit just minutes before mealtime.
When hopelessness sets in, rather than giving up I’d like to challenge you to rethink time. Moments are really all that we have left when the disease progresses to this stage, and your loved one still needs you to advocate on their behalf, to help keep them as active and engaged as possible, to love them and be with them right where they are in each moment. It’s time to stop measuring your visit by how in-depth the conversation, if your loved one remembers what day it is, calls you by name or recognizes you at all. Their ability to do these things gets lost as the disease progresses, but yours doesn’t. Take time to be in the moment with your loved one!
If you measure success by the amount of time your loved one spends meeting your agenda, rather than the moments you enjoy together in theirs, you will be sorely disappointed. Instead, focus on the moments they make eye contact with you, the moments they smile, the moments they giggle out loud. Once you discover the magic to creating these moments, you will be hooked on continuing to do so, adapting to their needs as they change over time. But you have to be a willing participant. You have to understand that where they are now, is not by choice, it is the progression of disease caused by damage to the brain. Being in the moment with your loved one has great advantages. There will be less stress to perform for both of you and lasting memories to create for yourself.
There is nothing I find more beautiful than watching people love on people. I guess it is one of the things that drew me to work in nursing facilities. There are always opportunities to love on people, and the majority of the time, it takes very little to bring about a sweet smile, or soft chuckle. One day, while providing training in a local nursing facility, I had the opportunity to meet “the sheriff”. That’s what his hat said anyway. He sat across the hall listening to a CD of hymns by Randy Travis, humming to himself. He was adorable, and although wheel chair bound, with oxygen, he sat alone with a big smile on his face enjoying the music. As I approached him, it was evident that the words didn’t come easily anymore. Possibly some dementia delayed his response to the familiar tunes, but it didn’t kill his love for it. I walked up beside him and began to sing. With just a little prompting, he was able to grasp the words that had previously escaped him, and we sang together, even harmonizing in a few places. His grin broadened as we sang, and my heart did that little dance that just keeps me going through out a long and tiring day. I had to get back to work, but for the next couple of hours, each time I passed by, he was still sitting there with his music, and I’d take a few minutes to sing another favorite hymn along with him. It was a simple little thing, meeting him right in the moment, making this sweet man smile, but what a blessing for me, what a memory I’ll treasure.