Lunch with David

Lunch with David

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition

Lunch with David

Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it.

~Jane Wagner

The very first story I wrote for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series appeared in Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul. When my copy of the book arrived, I immediately sat down to read the entire volume. Early on, I came to Teri Batts’ story called “Lunch with Grandma” and I began to laugh out loud. My chuckles turned to guffaws and the noise wafted through the house. Curious, my husband came upstairs to see what had amused me, but when I tried to read the story aloud to him, I couldn’t control my own chortles. In truth, I could barely breathe as I laughed and shared this wild adventure of Teri taking her grandmother, afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, out to lunch.

Little did I guess that a few years down the road I would step into the role of caregiver again. This time it was my cousin who needed help. David was only fifty years old when doctors diagnosed him with Pick’s disease. Similar to Alzheimer’s, this form of dementia affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. The lobes slowly shrink and steadily impair the ability to recognize faces and find the right word. In David’s case, after a few years he could no longer distinguish the faces of people he loved. When I visited, he did not know if I was his cousin, his sister, his daughter or his wife. Simple words like “clock” and “glass” fled from his mind and left him groping for weak substitutes that could express his needs.

In his earlier years, my cousin had amazing gifts. For example, when he was an eighth-grade student, he took a woodshop class at school and, for his class project he decided to build a harpsichord. Not a walnut bookshelf, like his classmates made. Not a pair of oak candle sticks. A full-sized musical instrument. For years I listened to David play the keys of that instrument every time I visited his home. His fingers flitted across the keyboard and produced sounds that set my heart dancing.

Today, that harpsichord sits in the front hall of his home, a mute reminder of the woodworking talents my cousin once had.

When he grew up and graduated from college, David became a successful director of a well-known museum near my home. His knowledge of history and his passion for facts made him well respected in his field. He served as president of a national historical society. The onset of the Pick’s disease forced him to leave these roles.

Today, when I visit him on the dementia ward, he can’t remember what he had for breakfast.

At first I watched the slowdown of David’s mind from a distance. His wife bore the brunt of caring for him during those early years. As the task of looking after David began to weigh heavier and heavier upon her, I gave her a copy of Chicken Soup for Caregiver’s Soul, hoping the stories would encourage her.

But a time came when she was no longer able to care for her husband at home. She moved him to a care facility nearer my home. She visited several times each week. I promised to visit regularly too.

David’s new home was lovely. The staff was friendly and unfailingly patient with the residents. I was amazed how each member of the staff knew the names of all the residents. As David and I walked the halls outside the dementia wing, even the people sweeping the floors and preparing meals waved and greeted David by name. The staff set aside a place for David to have his own woodshop where he could continue to work on simple projects with his hands. The meals were good and the rooms clean.

Still I found the environment depressing. I asked a friend who worked on a similar unit in another care facility how she coped with the melancholic atmosphere. She surprised me by saying how much she enjoyed the ward. “In the nursing wing, the people have active minds but their bodies are failing. Many of them truly are depressed and they often complain. But here on the dementia unit? The people don’t realize that their minds have gone. They are grateful for each activity and take each day as it comes.”

Could it be true? I was so focused on what David had lost. I thought back to Teri Batts’ story of taking her grandmother to lunch. Instead of grieving over what no longer was, Teri entered into her grandmother’s new world. She joined her grandmother as she crawled across the floor of the restaurant avoiding “danger.” Instead of tears of grief, Teri produced tears of laughter.

These days I still visit David regularly. Occasionally he sits down at the piano in the group activity room. His nimble fingers pull harmonies from the old instrument. That portion of his brain remains intact. I rejoice in the pleasure he gives his listeners. A fellow resident begins singing a tune. David and I enjoy a meal together. A female resident walks off with his dessert. He responds with a gentle smile.

I remember better days, but I do not grieve. Thanks, Teri, for the reminder that laughter is still the best entree on the lunch menu.

~Emily Parke Chase

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