94: Joy in an Unexpected Friendship

94: Joy in an Unexpected Friendship

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

Joy in an Unexpected Friendship

It’s one of nature’s way that we often feel closer to distant generations than to the generation immediately preceding us.

~Igor Stravinsky

Our entire family was over at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving — the scene was the same each year. The eight grandchildren were running around playing, arguing and playing some more. The adults were finished with the meal, lazing in the living room on the good couches, which were always covered with an old quilt when my family came to visit. We sat there watching the Cowboys game, chatting and trying to keep my dad from steering the conversation to politics.

I had always found the similarities between my grandmother and my daughter, Lizzie, who has autism, fascinating. Lizzie was about four years old and did not interact much with anyone; neither did my grandmother. My grandmother’s grip on reality had slowly been sucked out of her as Alzheimer’s took its toll; similarly, Lizzie seemed to lack any understanding of our day-to-day lives.

Both Lizzie and my grandmother were often in their own worlds. Lizzie would flap her arms and loudly recite all the words from Dora the Explorer. My grandmother would rub some sort of fabric in between her fingers and read a script from an earlier time in her life when she still had young children at home. They both seemed to wander around the house with no sense of purpose.

As the adults were chatting, I realized things had gotten very quiet. Eerily quiet. Way too quiet. Lizzie had either gotten into something she wasn’t supposed to, or gotten out of the house.

I immediately jumped up and began my search.

Kitchen? Nope.

Den? Not there.

Bathroom? Oops, wrong person. Sorry.

Then I heard it . . . the sweet sound of young and old giggling together. I peeked around the corner and what did I see? Lizzie and Grandma had found the remote control for the lamp in the bedroom. Such a simple thing; how could this possibly be bringing so much joy to both of them? They would walk into the bedroom, push the button, watch the light turn on and break out laughing.

After they completed their immediate cause-and-effect thrill, they would turn the light off, walk out, and then Lizzie would grab Grandma’s hand and pull her back into the room again. They would repeat this simple act over and over, again and again and again. Each time the light flipped on, they would laugh hysterically as if they had never experienced this phenomenon before.

The repetition of the light made sense to Lizzie, and she had found her perfect playmate — my grandma, a sweet old lady with no short-term memory! This was truly an unexpected friendship that brought joy to both of them.

~Julie Hornok

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