One day my dear friend, Connie, was coming to visit Ed with me. I was an hour and a half early because I wanted to make sure he was awake, shaved and dressed. I entered the code on the key pad, walked into the hallway of his unit, and saw that my favorite aide, Judy, was on duty that morning. She had her ever-present radiant smile on her face - the smile that was so quietly joyous I always assumed it was spiritually inspired.
"Hi, Judy," I said as I walked toward her. "Ed's going to have a special visitor in a little bit."
"Oh, wonderful! He loves company. I'll get him all fixed up like a gentleman. He is a gentleman, you know? He should look like one, too. I'll get him fixed up real good for his company."
We both walked briskly to Ed's room. I greeted him and he exclaimed as always how happy he was to see me, adding that I was "so beautiful." He seemed alert and in a good mood.
Wearing casual black slacks and a brilliant magenta blouse, Connie burst into the room, her vibrant energy and cheerfulness filling the area with an air of excitement. With her dark eyes, even darker hair, facial features, and constant gesturing with her hands as she talked, it was easy to guess she was part Italian. Emotional by nature and culture, this visit was special for her. She wanted to connect with my Ed at the deepest level possible, given whatever his mental status may be that day.
After I introduced them, Connie sat down on the sofa right across from Ed's wheel chair. They took off having a lively discussion, Connie gesturing in the air and Ed with his ever-present tremor, as though they were dear friends who hadn't seen each other for ages. I was amazed. Ed was lucid. He was making perfect sense and interacting with Connie in a 'normal' way.
Then they stopped talking. Ignoring me completely, as though I were an inanimate extension of my chair, they held hands and gazed into each other's eyes. They didn't move. They didn't talk. They just held hands and looked at each other. Ed finally broke the silence. Like a child, he simply said what he was feeling.
"I'm looking at your face. . . I like it. You are so beautiful."
"I'm honored to visit you," she told him.
"Huh! I'm twenty times honored to see you."
How could Ed, given his stage of dementia, make this kind of response so effortlessly to a total stranger? Yes, I could tell already - this was going to be a special visit.
Connie moved to a folding chair and we arranged ourselves in a little circle, she in her folding chair, I in the rocker and Ed in his wheel chair. We listened to a song on a Tony Bennett CD Connie brought. It was about two lovers who later become inseparable friends who cherished each other until the very last days of their lives. It was a perfect representation of my relationship with Ed. As we listened, Connie got tears in her eyes.
"It gives her tears," Ed said, pointing to her face.
I was again astounded by his awareness. As the music continued, we all held hands. The music ended and we dropped our hands. Connie fished her wallet out of her enormous Coach purse and showed Ed pictures of her grandchildren. Then she recounted to him a recent talk she had with her granddaughter, Anna.
"I told Anna that when you love someone they are always in your heart and you are always in their heart, even if something happens to one of you."
She turned to Ed and said slowly and loudly, emphasizing each word, to make sure he understood.
"You're always in Marie's heart and she's always in yours."
"Marie's always in my heart. . . .but I'm not sure I'm always in hers," he said.
"Yes, Ed. You're always in my heart," I assured him.
He said in a matter-of-fact way that he was very happy to hear that. Feelings were simple for Ed then. His mind didn't let him get involved with the complexity of emotions other people experience. The mixed feelings we can have. The lingering doubts. Suspicion about other people's motives. I told him he was always in my heart and that made him happy and settled the issue for him in his mind.
Soon after Connie left, after numerous good-byes, thanks (from the bottom of Ed's heart), and hand kisses from him. I lingered a while. Then I told Ed I had to leave and that I would come back the following day. He said "Wonderful!" I walked down the hall, though the lobby that was full of visitors that day, and out into the crowded parking lot. It had been an amazing hour of lucidity and I felt warm and loved all the way home.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.