Whoever You Are, Come Visit

It’s been almost an hour. We are wrapping up the conversation with my uncle in the living room at his house.

It’s been good to visit with him. And he has been glad to see us, especially our sweet little Henry we brought along.

When I was a child, I didn’t see this uncle very often. He and his wife lived several states away. But when they came to my grandmother’s house for Christmas each December, I was always happy.

They were sophisticated and traveled and in my little girl mind, “rich.” They brought the best Christmas gifts with them. They shopped at the nice stores and didn’t mind spending money on the nieces and nephews.

Years later when they retired and moved close to us, we were thrilled to get to really know them. They told interesting stories of their jobs and vacations and places we’d never been. It was delightful having them at our big family meals at regular intervals instead of the yearly visits.

But then my dad died, my uncle’s only brother. And my uncle was sad, as were we all. Then my mother died, and my aunt was sad. She thought of my mother more as a sister she never had than as just a sister-in-law.

We began seeing them less and less as time rolled by.

It’s now time to leave my uncle’s house today. We hug goodbye with him.

Then we turn to hug and say goodbye to the sweet quiet lady sitting very still in her recliner.

She hadn’t participated much in our earlier conversation. When she did talk, she gave generic statements, such as “Isn’t that the truth” or “That’s the way it goes.”

But it doesn’t matter.

She no longer calls us by name. She no longer remembers why we call her Aunt.

And even though we don’t know this newer version of our aunt, we know she’s still a very kind lady. And she is as much loved as always.

She looks up at us now and waves goodbye. She adds, “Come back and visit soon” even though she isn’t sure who we are or where we came from.

We smile and say, “Thank you! We will!”

* * *

My mother died from dementia when she was 71. My aunt was older before she showed signs. My heart has a special place for those who lose their memories. And even though I hope I won’t be one of those (yet I worry I will), I know I’ll still have family who love me, regardless of which “me” I might turn out to be.

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18 thoughts on “Whoever You Are, Come Visit

  1. Michele Morin

    I lost a dear friend to dementia a few years ago. To make matters worse, she moved to Florida since we’re limited to phone calls, but I promised her, while she still knew me, that I would remember her and our friendship even after she had forgotten. We ended several conversations with that reassurance–until I could see that she had lost that thread. We lose our loved ones twice when dementia is in the equation.

  2. Martha J Orlando

    Your reflection here today moved me to the core of my being, Lisa. Losing anyone to dementia or Altzeimer’s is crushing. We know the “old” person is still inside, but can no longer reach out. Still, love is the emotion that breaks through to the other side in ways we cannot fathom.
    Praying for your family.

  3. Lisa Blair

    My mother-in-law had dementia. We moved to be closer to her as she declined, and we are so thankful we did! Each visit is precious, even if it looks different from the past years. I’m glad you had this precious day with them, Lisa.

  4. Steffanie

    My Papaw had this condition too. He was a sweet and loving gentleman all his life and we loved him dearly. God bless you for sharing this and not being afraid to speak out about it.

  5. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Lisa, such a poignant post. I had wonderful great aunts, great uncles, and an aunt to whom I was very close. None had dementia, but I saw it rob my matron of honor of her life for years, bit by bit, till she ended up in a horrible state-run “nursing home,” b/c her husband had died and her son had no way to care for her. It was horrifying to see her final decline. She didn’t know a dear high-school friend and me. I think your visits mean a lot. Whether or not she recognizes you, I choose to believe that somewhere, deep-down in her spirit, is a spark of recognition. Your visits have value, hopefully to her, to you, and most important, TO GOD! Your essay reminds me of this sweet book:

    Thank you for sharing *AND CARING*!

  6. JeanWise

    Beautiful tribute and reminder no matter the physical or mental capacities of our older loved ones that are still our treasures. Makes me think: who am I being invited to to visit soon?

  7. Lesley

    This is beautiful, Lisa. It is so sad how dementia can change a person. I think it is a source of ongoing grief to family and friends to see little bits of their personality gradually being lost. I love that your aunt’s kindness and welcoming spirit still shine through even in the midst of her dementia.

  8. Trudy

    Dementia is so sad, Lisa. I’m sorry you have experienced it in loved ones. Thank you for your kind thoughts concerning this “aunt” – “we know she’s still a very kind lady. And she is as much loved as always.” You are a loving person. Have you ever read “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova? I read it many years ago, but I still remember how much insight it gave into the heartbreaking reality of Alzheimer’s for one who has it. Alice was “still Alice” even though her memory was going, but some people didn’t treat her that way. Love and blessings to you!

  9. Calvonia

    Thank you for inviting us into this intimate yet difficult time with your Aunt and Uncle. Walking the journey of dementia is hard. But somewhere in their eyes, every now and then, you see the person you know. I believe even when they can’t cognitively recognize us, they still sense the love we have.

  10. Susan Nowell @ My Place to Yours

    Lisa, it means so much that you took time to visit your uncle and aunt—and to take little Henry! Your being there broke up the monotony of the day for both of them, and it gave you uncle a much-needed distraction, I’m sure!

    Sadly, we have a long history of Alzheimer’s in our family. I watched it semi-up close with my paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother, but we’re now experiencing it “up close and personal” with my mother, even as her sister died from it a couple of years ago and her brother has it now. All three children in her family plus the mother. It’s so sad.

    I just finished reading every resource in your Reflections post linked above. Some things (like The 36-Hour Day which I read years ago when dealing with grandparents) were familiar to me; other suggestions and reflections were very helpful. Thank you for sharing!

    There is one additional resource I have discovered that I’d like to share with your readers: Teepa Snow (Positive Approach to Care) is an amazing woman who provides great insight into understanding/caring for people with dementia. She brings much-needed levity to a very difficult reality while showing hands-on, practical ways to treat the patient with dignity. She has many YouTube videos as well. Amazingly helpful!

  11. Joanne Viola

    Having lost both of my in-laws to dementia, it is such a sad journey. Yet somehow it teaches us to value the aging, to treasure the time we have with them. I am so sorry you also have had this experience. You shared this beautifully, Lisa, and I am certain every visit is enjoyed and appreciated because of the love your aunt and uncle experienced!

  12. Donna

    Lisa, this post so resonated with me. I lost a dear friend at the age of 54 with early onset Alzheimer’s and my sweet Aunt from the same 2 years ago. Both ladies were so sweet even until the end, and my aunt never stopped laughing. Which is very unusual for most Alzheimer patients.
    As a training facilitator for our clinical personnel in caring for dementia and Alzheimer patients as well as a member of our dementia resource team, though I see many sad stories, I also see the faint recognition of human dignity in a faint smile with a tender touch.
    Yes, my aunt always thanked us for a visits too, and said she would “see us soon”. Yes Aunt Mary, we’ll see you soon.

  13. Jeanne Takenaka

    Ahhh, Lisa. This brought tears to my eyes. My grandma died from Alzheimers, and I wish I’d been older before it afflicted her. I have memories of her teaching me how to knit, of that one known Christmas gift from her each year: a hand-knitted pair of slippers. Her smile. Her singing voice. Like you, I pray that isn’t the way I age, but I know I have family around me, and for that I thank God.

  14. Mary Geisen

    Thank you for sharing so openly. I have not been affected personally by any family members having Alzheimer’s, but have watched some friends go through it. What a devastating disease. Michele is right that they lose their loved one twice.

  15. Kym

    It’s heartbreaking to lose someone this way. As others have said, we lose them twice. What an opportunity to show patience and compassion though, and I guess we trust that God can still speak to their hearts, even though they don’t recognize loved ones any more.

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