People with Alzheimer's have taught me a lot about love over the years. I learned that they may remember past love and also experience love in the present -- even if they don't talk anymore and even during the last days of their lives.
I learned these lessons from Ed, my beloved Romanian soul mate of 30 years, and from several ladies I volunteer to visit at a local memory care facility. People with Alzheimer's typically love art, music, children and animals. Sometimes activities involving one of these can reach people with Alzheimer's on a level we cannot. And, of course, they can love other people. Here are some stories that illustrate my points.
Love for Animals
One day I took my new little puppy, Christina, to the memory care facility to visit Ruth, who is a great dog lover. We had that puppy racing back and forth between us for 30 solid minutes. Each time she arrived at Ruth and dive bombed her feet, Ruth flung both arms wildly in the air and shouted, "Wheee!"
When I left that day Ruth put her hand on my shoulder, looked at me with an enormous smile and proclaimed, "I love her so much! This is my best day since I've lived here!"
Love for Children
There is another lady at the facility who carries a doll baby around with her. The doll is very real and critically important to her. One day when I passed her in the hall, I saw her slowly lift the doll to her face and kiss it on the top of the head ever so lovingly. It was so touching that it almost took my breath away.
Love for Music
Another lady I visited was Carolyn. She loved classical music and told me her favorite composer was Tchaikovsky. So I took a CD of the Nutcracker Suite every week and played selections from it. She absolutely loved it. When she heard the music her whole demeanor changed. She smiled broadly and patted out the rhythms with both hands on her lap. And she never failed to thank me profusely for bringing it.
Later when Carolyn was literally on her deathbed, she was almost always lying down with her eyes closed when I arrived to visit. But I kept playing the Nutcracker Suite. She showed no reaction whatsoever l until one day I asked her if she liked it. Then she opened her eyes, smiled and said, "Very much! I love it!"
Love for Other People
Ann was a resident who didn't talk anymore. About all I could do was hold her hand and talk to her softly. She showed no sign that she was even aware of my presence. Then one day during my 10 visit, when I was holding her hand she took her other hand and began lovingly caressing my arm. That's when I realized that we were connecting despite her apparent lack of awareness. Ann passed away a few days later. I was grateful I'd had the opportunity to visit her all those weeks and brighten her final days at least a tiny bit.
My most touching story about love took place during a visit with Ed. One day I was showing him some old photographs of us. The last one showed me standing behind him with my hands on his shoulders. My head was peeking around his facing the camera.
The instant he saw that photo he whispered, "Ah ... she loved me." Then he looked me in the eyes with the facial expression he'd had when we were lovers all those many years before. He didn't realize that I was the woman in the photo, but he remembered that she loved him. And that's what mattered.
So this is what people with Alzheimer's have taught me. They've taught me about the never-ending and unconditional power of love. They've taught me that love matters.
Note: I have changed the ladies' names to protect their privacy.