She Still Brings Me Flowers, By Paul Raia, PhDJune 24, 2015
Guest Blogger, Paul Raia, PhD, VP Professional Clinical Services, Alzheimer’s Association MA/NH Chapter
She Still Brings Me Flowers
Alzheimer’s is an audacious disease that not only wraps its’ tendrils around the person with the disease, but also around all those within the range of love of that person. It turns the way we see things topsy-turvy. Most often, caregivers see only the losses, and feel the profound sorrow for the fading of the person that was, and become overwhelmed by grief. Experience has shown me that many caregivers can, in fact, open there hearts, and acknowledge that in addition to the life-sapping loses, Alzheimer’s can reveal many life-strengthening gifts.
The sages of the Bible tell us that we can convert our sorrows, if we but: “Listen to the still and quiet voice within us”. To hear this voice we must first learn to quell all the distracting psychic noise of caregiving, so that we can hear what we need to know.
Peter was one caregiver who heard that vice within and allowed it to help him focus on what was important.
I while back I visited Peter a 94 year-old, who was conscientiously caring for his 93 year-old wife, Celeste who was then in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease. As Celeste lost the capacity to run her household, she took great delight in sitting by the kitchen window and watching the birds in the back yard. Seeing Celeste’s joy, Peter built three bird houses on tall poles in the back yard, each with a ladder attached. Every New England morning, snow or shine, using simultaneously a cane and a crutch to get around, Peter would toddle along with a bag of bird seed around his neck and climb each ladder with great care and effort and fill each bird feeder.
When I asked him why he didn’t allow one of his many children or grandchildren to do this daily dangerous chore, he said: “Dr. Raia, you don’t understand, Celeste’s Alzheimer’s disease is a gift that has been given to me. This disease allows me to live my love for her each day”. That is what sustains me.
Mark, a caregiver in my all male support group shared a similar philosophy. Mark’s wife, June was a certified master gardener before the onset of Alzheimer’s at age 54. During the growing season she would cut a single flower for her husband every day and give it to him with a kiss as he left for work. Now, late into her disease she can no longer manage her garden. She is bed-bound, blind and unable to speak and requires his constant care. In our support group he said I love her more now than ever before—she still brings me flowers.
I know that it may be hard to accept while still in the throes of caring for someone who is living with Alzheimer’s disease, but the experience of many caregivers who hear, that still and quiet voice within, show us that caring can strengthen love and help us ex[eroemce what is truly important in life. So, every day, please take a moment and cup an ear, and listen, long and hard. Maybe one day, you’ll be able accept the flowers that she brings you.