“Hi Poppa,” I said, seeing him again.
He stared at me in response,
transfixed for a few moments,
not one word did he speak.
But I saw something in his eyes.
Does he remember dancing with me at my wedding?
When he hears his sons call him “Dad,”
does he know he is being spoken to?
He hasn’t called his sons by name in years.
When we call him “Poppa,”
does he know of himself?
He doesn’t know his grandchildren and has not enjoyed a moment of their childhood in years.
But, when his grandson, my son,
shook his grandfather’s hand goodbye
“Poppa” reached down to a 7 year-olds height, and there was a smile that has not been seen in years.
The tears welled from his wife’s eyes, and my own. Does he know the happiness this one moment brought two women?
It was not deliberate.
It was spontaneous.
For me, it was pure joy,
The only joy I have seen, in the years culminating
And marked by,
this horrible disease called Alzheimer’s.
It has been two years since I wrote this, and now "Poppa" has passed away. My mother-in-law tells people, "Do not be sorry, for he is no longer suffering, he is in a better place." Of this I agree wholeheartedly, my father-in-law has been dying for years, bed ridden for nearly the last year of his life.
At the funeral service, my sister-in-law Kelly spoke something I will never forget, and that I wish to pass on to anyone who will listen: "Never be afraid to touch someone who has Alzheimer's."
My mother-in-law and Kelly were the primary caretakers for my father-in-law because my mother-in-law did not want to place him in a nursing home. She said, "As long as I can take care of him, I will." In the last year, she had the help of hospice care, which she desperately needed and appreciated.
"Never be afraid to touch someone who has Alzheimer's." Even someone who was not affectionate in their life, the independent life they held before they "passed over" to this new life, a life of complete dependence on everyone around you; a man like "Poppa."
The Alzheimer's patient must be afraid, especially when they are dying, but cannot express the fear as they no longer have a voice. They may no longer be able to tell you in their eyes. They must need anyone who can hold their hand and provide some comfort. Alzheimer's is a scary disease for those watching someone dying from it, but imagine in the souls of the suffering patient, how terribly frightening it must feel. And, do they have any capacity to understand what is happening?
Please reach out and do not be afraid. Comfort the body and soul of Alzheimer's.