Today is cold (45 degrees) and rainy. All my meetings got cancelled so I went off to a nursing home to see patients, all with dementia. I was still sullen over my ego-bruise of a disaster presentation yesterday, and generally in low spirits with the crappy weather. (My moods are so dependent on weather that it's probably medication-worthy.)
I got to the unit and it was lunchtime so I spent an hour feeding an old lady who didn't talk but had piercing blue eyes and a lovely smile. A worker came up, looked in the day room, and said to someone 'I hate this floor'. To an outsider I suppose dementia units are sad, scary places. Looked at one way it's a bunch of senseless babble that you hear, at best. Many times there's screams, groans, weird noises, repetitive banging of hands...lots of mess and body fluids. On very rare occasions this is what I see -loss.
But most days, I have an experience like today. I am feeding a lady who I learn through no words loves peaches. She looks deeply at me in a way only a baby would, and there's no choice but to be present. The rain is pouring down and the staff look jaded and frustrated. Except as soon as I think that one of them comes in dancing and singing and complimenting the ladies. There are a lot of sounds, including Lawrence Welk, alarms going off everytime someone tries to stand, and a lady calling someone a 'bloody fool' for taking away her bib. Through the noise a lady sings. An old, warbly, slow, strong voice. She's singing April Showers. Here are the verses she sang:
Though April showers may come your way
They bring the flowers that bloom in May
So if it's raining, have no regrets
Because it isn't raining rain, you know
It's raining violets.
And where you see clouds upon the hills
You soon will see crowds of daffodils
So keep on looking for a blue bird
And list'ning for his song
Whenever April showers come along
This lady sang through the noise for one hour, without stopping. This beautiful song of hope as she looked out of the rainy window. Before I left I walked over to her, looked her in the eyes and told her thank you for her song. She grabbed my hand and smiled and said you're welcome. Then she told me how her friends used to work on another floor but now they stay up here. Perhaps she could get me work. You look like you are having a good time with your friends, I said. I walked away a few steps and she leaned towards the ladies, shaking her head, saying "That poor young girl, without a mother or a father in life."
The next lady I saw in her room. I looked through an old album with her... her as a baby in 1922. All the old black and white faded photos of her childhood. Her wedding portrait. A close up of her young face, so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes - she looked sort of like Judy Garland, but prettier. Sheer happiness on her face, as she looked at her new husband. I asked how old she was when she married, not expecting her to remember. Oh, 18 or 19 I suppose, that's when every girl gets married, she said. Tucked in the album was a note from 1986. Her granddaughter had asked if her grandfather would get better after his stroke. She had said I don't know. The granddaughter's response - a bible verse about the power of faith to heal- was in there, in her hand, along with the story. There was also a beautiful poem by her father dedicated to her. At the end he wrote humbly 'my one shot at poetry'. It is such an honor to be with these people and witness their memories and lives.