The Look of Not Knowing

We all have had days when we forget where we put our keys or a name of a family or friend. Some of us may forget the day of the week or a special occasion. I must admit that I am one of those people.  Sometimes I have the look of not knowing more that I would like. It usually happens if I am stressed or tired, or on information overload.  It happens to many of us especially as we age, but if we give ourselves a little time, and try not to get too frustrated, the information we struggled to remember will often meander itself back into our memory. However, there is much more to the look of not knowing than a hiccup of a slightly sluggish memory.

This is a story about three beautiful, loving women, two who reside in Heaven and one who lives in a senior care facility.  It is a story of hope, compassion, empathy, love, and patience. It is a story written from my heart for all those living or who have passed from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and their loving families who deal with losing them a little more each day.

Millie is small in stature with brown eyes, and hair. She is always dressed in a coordinated outfit with stylish jewelry adorning her wrists, neck, and ears. Her warm smile can light up a room in an instant and her genuine, ” It’s nice to see you,” tickles hearts.

Millie is a ninety-year-old senior, diagnosed with pulmonary dementia.  For many years, Millie was able to live independently, but as time marched on, the look of not know became more predominant. Couple that with osteoporosis staying in her own home was becoming more difficult. Millie’s family knew that some discussion and decisions had to be made to assure their mother’s safety and welfare. Together, they decided that a senior care facility would be the best for their mother whom they loved so dearly.

In the beginning, accepting her new home was a little difficult, but soon she felt comfortable and enjoyed many of the daily activities. Millie made friends easily and before long had a few new girlfriends. She enjoyed dining with them each day, and could often be found sitting with a few, sharing stories from their past.

As it turned out, Millie moved to a facility within walking distance of my home. I loved to visit her when I took my nightly walks. She warmed my heart and I loved listening to her Italian accent.

As time went by, Millie’s dementia worsened. She started living more in the past and reverting back to her native language. Millie also needed a walker to help with her unsteadiness.  I remember walking in and hearing her voice.  I followed the familiar accent and found her chatting with one of the “girls.” She looked up and smiled then introduced me to her friend.  After a few minutes, her friend left, and Millie wanted to go back to her room. She got up from the brown recliner and started to walk, leaving something behind; her walker. I called to Millie telling her she forgot her walker. Her response was priceless, ” It’s not my walker! It’s yours!”  Millie wanted nothing to do with her walker so, I followed close behind her pushing “my walker” back to her room.

I loved my visits, but soon noticed a big change in Millie. She always knew my name and her smile was the same, however, after her initial, “Hello,” Millie started speaking in her native language, Italian.  I had to tell her that I did not understand her language.  She stopped and spoke English, but a few words later, Millie went back to Italian.  Finally, I just smiled and moved my head as if I understood every word. It was important to me not to offend this sweet, dear woman in any way.

As life happens, family issues kept me from visiting as often, however, I kept up with Millie through her family.

Then one day, Millie fell and broke her hip. She needed a  replacement and more care than the senior facility could provide. Millie did well with the surgery and was moved to a facility for rehabilitation. She settled in and was doing the best she could with her walking.  Then another setback; Millie had forgotten how to swallow. Learned behaviors, such as walking, swallowing, talking, and brushing teeth are often forgotten and must be relearned. With the help of the speech therapist, Millie is learning how to swallow again and doing a great job.  Although she is not talking much, she is saying a few words.

I love Millie, always have and always will. When my mother passed, she had many kind words and hugged me tightly.  When I would see her at picnic’s, we would sit and have great conversations.  I loved how Millie was always concerned for my safety as we visited. She would occasionally glance at her window, checking to see if the darkness was falling faster than our words. Millie would remind me to be safe as I walked home as I kissed her lightly on her cheek. Every time I was ready to leave, she would say, ” Come again!”   I plan on visiting Millie soon. I am hoping that she will know me. I think she will.

Just a thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if what the mind does not remember, the heart does?  I choose to believe that Millie’s heart is overflowing with memories of her family, friends and happy times.

Louella was tiny in stature, with reddish hair done nicely, a raspy voice, and blue eyes that looked liked the sky on a cloudless day. She was ready to lend a hand when needed and was often seen standing on her porch roof washing her upstairs windows.

Louella was my aunt. She was my mother’s sister, and I loved her. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her. My mother and Aunt Louella were close. They both enjoyed taking day trips to the casinos and always came back with the best stories. Then something changed. Mom was a little hesitant to ask her to go on the bus. It seemed that my aunt started to roam and often could not be found. It had happened more than once and it scared my mother beyond belief.

Then, the look of not knowing started to show up regularly, and stayed longer and longer each time.  I would often talk to my aunt on the phone and yes, I noticed a little forgetfulness but it was not until I volunteered to pick her up and bring her to our family reunion that I got the whole picture.

It was a warm August day, as I knocked on her front door. I could hear her walking toward the door but she did not open it. Instead, she peered out the oversized window next to the door. She looked right at me but did not come to the door.  I knocked again and kept knocking until the door slowly opened. The look of not knowing gave me chills as she stood and just stared at me, seemingly lost in the moment.  Although I was taken back, I started a conversation that went like this, “Hi aunt Louella, It’s me, Cindy.   I’m here to take you to the family reunion.” She looked at me for a few minutes then smiled and said, ” Oh Cindy, It’s you.” My aunt was dressed in her nightgown and housecoat. She turned around and headed to the kitchen with record speed.

Aunt Louella did not say a word but went right to work stirring her boiling pots on the stove. Quickly, she spun around, looked at me and said, “Why are you here? I must get the salads made for the reunion.  My family will be her soon. Why are you here?”  I looked at her for a moment then explained that her family was not going to the reunion this year and that I would be taking her.  I reminded her that she would be sitting at our table and eating with us.  The look of not knowing took over as she kept repeating, ” Where is my family, where is my family?”  I must say, I choked back a few tears as I saw the confusion on her face.

Aunt Louella was quiet as she stood stirring her macaroni, then turned and said, ” I’m sorry, I guess I forgot. I’ll get dressed if you finish cooking for me.”  As she walked through the dining room and climbed the stairs, I heard her crying and my heart broke.

We got to the reunion late that day, and even though my dear sweet aunt smiled, I knew her mind was confused and her heart was hurting.  After the reunion, as I drove her home, she shared that sometimes she forgets things and that she was afraid.  As I walked her into her house, she turned and just cried and cried. I could see the fear in her eyes.  The look of not knowing was happening more and more each day and I could see that it was taking a toll on her.  I asked her if she wanted me to stay, but she said no, that she would be alright.  I had my doubts but knew that she needed a little time to herself. Besides, I wanted to call her family as soon as I got home.  I kissed her goodbye and told her I would call her later. Little did she know that I planned on calling her a lot and stopping by more frequently.

 I called Aunt Louella’s daughter as soon as I got home and filled her in on what happened. She was aware of a few memory issues but did not realize the depth of the not knowing. Within a few weeks, aunt Louella moved in with her daughter and stayed with her until her death.

Aunt Louella had Alzheimer’s disease. She died when she was eighty-years-old.  When I think back to my loving aunt who was always cleaning or cooking, I smile because she was a gem. A beautiful gem ready to help when needed. A gem that loved her family and left volumes of memories. A gem that tickled my heart and still does, every time I think of her.

Roberta was small in stature, with eyes of blue that sparkled like crystal clear water. She was comfortable in everyday clothes, sneakers, and socks. When she dressed up, she looked like a million bucks. Roberta love to go to the casinos, scratching lottery tickets and singing. She loved to tell jokes and had many friends.  She was kind and loving but a rascal at heart. Her family would look at her and hold their breath when the jokes started, not knowing what was coming out of her mouth. Roberta liked to compare herself to “Sophia” of the Golden Girls.

The woman I just described has a special name; Mom.

In 2010, Mom had a series of strokes which were bad. However, she persevered with the help of physical therapy and her loving family. Mom developed pulmonary dementia due to the strokes. Her short-term memory was weak but her long-term was priceless. She actually remembered things that happened when she was very young. My brother, two sisters and I heard more stories and learned some pretty interesting things about our grandparents. We loved it!  Then in 2013, Mom developed a fast growing mass and died within seven weeks from the time she was diagnosed.  I don’t know what was worse, her death from the mass or the thought of her dementia progressing, and living a life of not knowing. We miss her and love her more, and more each day. She is our Angel, our rainbow, our cardinal, and our blue butterfly.

My Heartfelt Thoughts………………………………………….

If you have a family member or dear friend who suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s, reach out to their families.  Be there to listen, lend a helping hand, and above all let them know just how much you care. If you have a loved one who has stopped talking, take family pictures to show them,  hold their hand, hug them and talk softly. Sometimes, the less said is better.  My heart tells me that God’s sends his Angels to watch over those wonderful folks who have the look of not knowing. Reach out, be an Earth Angel to a family going through a very difficult time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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