65: Milkshake Miracle

65: Milkshake Miracle

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

Milkshake Miracle

We do not remember days; we remember moments.

~Cesare Pavese, The Burning Brand

I looked forward to a visit with my mom, who lived 2,000 miles from my home in California. Since Mom was 80 and suffered from Alzheimer’s, I realized how important it was to see her again—soon.

Mom received loving care from the Sister Servants of Christ the King at a 40-bed, basic-care facility in Edgeley, North Dakota. She occupied a simple room, spent most of her day doing simple things, and seemed to be “all right,” considering that dementia had set in.

When Mom appeared in the lobby, I smiled, hugged and kissed her, and said, “Nice to see you, Mom.”

She didn’t know who I was! Not a clue that her son (fourth of her five children) was with her. I was devastated.

Stressed out, I spent several hours trying to connect with my mother—talking with her, walking around the grounds, looking at family pictures in her room, chatting with the nuns—doing whatever I could think of to help Mom recognize a member of her own family.

While I was aware that Alzheimer’s is incurable and is a leading cause of death in America, I still hoped for a recognition “miracle”—something that would shake Mom loose from her semantic memory problems.

But nothing I said or did worked, and, reluctantly, I returned to my hotel for an overnight stay. I spent several hours worrying and wondering what I could say or do that might bring Mom around. Nothing occurred to me.

But driving to Edgeley the next morning, I suddenly had a “Eureka moment.” I thought of something that might jar her memory.

When I arrived at the St. Joseph’s Manor, I greeted Sister Teresa and waited for Mom. While waiting for another nun to bring Mom from her room, I obtained permission from Sister Teresa to take Mom downtown for an hour or so. I wanted to treat her at a restaurant—in this case, the Edgeley Coffee Shop (just about the only restaurant in the little town). I drove Mom the few blocks to the café.

After we were greeted and seated, Sandy the waitress asked for our order. While Mom was looking at the menu and peeping out the window, I took Sandy aside, quietly told her of Mom’s dementia condition and my plot to jar her long-term memory, and ordered two strawberry milkshakes.

When Sandy delivered the milkshakes, Mom took one sip, looked me in the eye, and said, “This is good, Bobby.” She’d recognized me at last, calling me Bobby (as she always had while her memory was intact). I was ecstatic and thanked Sandy for being “in on it.”

There’s a simple explanation for Mom’s recollection. When I was a boy, Mom and Dad and us kids often piled into the Chevy, drove around town, and nearly always stopped at the Polar King for milk-shakes (Mom’s favorite treat). I’d hit upon one of Mom’s episodic memories.

Talk about stress reduction! A serendipitous event allowed me to reconnect with my mother—the last time, as it turned out. Mom died two years later of complications from Alzheimer’s. But I had managed to connect with her one last time—thanks to a strawberry milkshake in a little café in Edgeley, North Dakota.

~Robert J. Brake

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