Aging, Alzheimer's, Caregiving, Dementia, Memoir, Personhood

ELDER LESSONS

I read at a nursing care center every two weeks.  From the hearts of people who never remember me, I receive amazing gifts.

What is to be learned from Alzheimer’s or other dementia patients?

Sharing:  Some people enter into relationships with a requirement for memory retention.  They need verbal reflections of their own value from those who have fully-functioning memory banks and verbal fluidity.   Without empathy, the face of a person with dementia is constant frustration—the “all about me” need never satisfied.  Pure charity (love) is giving without the expectation of reciprocation.

The Existential:  In reality, all we have is the moment.  We tend to forget the present as we rehash the past and plan for the future.  Moments are lost as our busy minds run wildly.  Visiting with someone with dementia quiets our minds when we allow ourselves to be still as we hold loved ones’ hands, look into cloudy eyes, and offer kind words.  Moments become a celebrations larger than the indulgences of memory or mind-preparations for dinner or other non-monumental planning.

Recognition of Personhood:  Society, as a whole, has corrupted how we celebrate personhood.  We are asked to admire the crazies on reality TV, boorish politicians who devalue segments of our population, and advertisements defining beauty and success.  Reality TV vs. reality: people get old or have disabilities and they still have value.  Political rhetoric vs. reality: there is more value in a person who has worked for many decades, raised a loving family and done their best to be honorable than any politician who ignores the many needs of the elderly.  Advertisement vs. reality: no model is more beautiful than an elderly man or woman with a smile—with or without teeth.

What inspired this post?  I always greet and hold the hands of each resident as they come to my readings.  Again, after I finish my 20-minutes of readings and humor, I tell each person goodbye and hold their hands.

Last week, one woman pulled my hand to her lips and kissed it.  Her eyes were clear.  I bent down and kissed her white hair in need of a brush.  In that existential moment, we connected as women on a journey together.

I grieve for all those young people who are not learning from their elders.  Learning may be wisdom imparted or the acceptance of an elder who only has “in the moment” to offer.

Standard
Memoir

Call Me On Route 66

When I was almost 12-years-old, my family moved from the farm to an apartment adjoining the local telephone company switchboard and office.  The building was tin and in the summer months our living quarters felt like a metal oven.  Only the phone office had a window air conditioning unit.

Mother was the new office manager of one of the last pre-dial phone systems in the United States.  She had two operators to help her six to nine hours a day.  The remainder of the fifteen to eighteen hours she answered calls, “Number please.”  Mother also did all the billing and cleaning.  The only other employee was a part-time lineman who worked for the railroad full time.

Farm homes still had wooden, box phones and individual telephone rings made up of longs and shorts.  On the farm we answered to two long rings and two short rings on line seven.  The jingle alerted homemakers to their neighbor’s calls and “listening in” was a favorite pastime – a pastime all denied!

Residents were respectful of the night rule: no calls after ten o’clock or before seven in the morning.  Exceptions to the rules were made for emergencies, railroader calls to report for work, and student calls for rides home following high school sporting events.

Railroaders daily called the operator and told her he was going for a haircut or to the drug store for coffee.  If a call for work presented itself, the operator sent the call to the railroader’s location.  Of course, there was no fee for the answering service – just the neighborly thing to do.

City dwellers in Hope, Kansas who lifted their receivers triggered a light on the switchboard.  If a senior citizen’s light came on and there was no verbal response, mother would contact their family or send my father out to knock on their door.

The relationship between the phone office and the residents was civility at its best.  The community supported the phone office team and the operators made every effort to do what was best for the locals.  No one screamed, “Not my job description!”

There is no going back to phones with handles and mouth pieces hanging in flowered, wall-papered kitchens.  There is no going back to quiet nights without texts and cyber messaging.  There is no going back to the absence of phones at the dinner table.  There is no going back to creative play rather than mindless games on i-phones.

How different would the world be if we still knew the phone operator by name?  How different would the world be if everyone in cyberspace did not know our names?  A part of us changed with each advance in communication technology.  Perhaps the first step in reestablishing our civility is to recognize what we lost along the way.

Standard