A Sign of Love

A Sign of Love

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

A Sign of Love

The greatest pleasure of life is love.

Sir William Temple

Wandering down the halls of the locked unit of a long-term care facility, you will see many things. People look lost and lonely; they smile at you as if you were family and they walk aimlessly throughout the building, which is both familiar yet strange to them. Today is in a previous time—the year is 1936, when the war just broke out, or 1952, when they gave birth to their first child.

Working in the nursing home you become the residents’ family. In you they see their daughter or son, the one who never visits, and they feel comfortable and happy knowing that someone who cares about them is close by.

Language is lost for them. There are no more utterances of, “I love you,” no more “hellos”—it’s just the silent sound of people who are trapped inside themselves, trapped by a disease called Alzheimer’s.

As a recreation therapist it has been my job to cultivate the incredible creative spirit that lies within these people and provide them a way of having fun and expressing themselves—with or without words.

This is where our story begins.

It was an early morning as I walked around the locked unit. I gave Sheila her good morning kiss and Shirley a hug as we usually did every morning.

The unit was quiet except for the familiar tapping noise. I went into one of the small living rooms to discover Marion tapping the top of her chair. This was a daily occurrence. We knew she was trying to tell us something because she only tapped when she wanted our attention.

I walked over to her and kneeled on the floor beside her. She looked at me with grandmotherly eyes, pursed her lips, and gave me a kiss. Then pointing to me, she tapped on her armchair and smiled.

This event went on every day. I always gave her a kiss and sat with her, as Marion didn’t utter a word. I could tell by her eyes she desperately wanted to tell me something; I just couldn’t figure out what it was.

One day the tapping on her chair was uncontrollable. Every tactic to distract and redirect her was tried, yet nothing seemed to work. I was downstairs doing paperwork when I heard my name on the PA system instructing me to come right away.

I dashed to the elevator thinking something was catastrophically wrong. Did someone fall? Had someone died? My heart pounded. I found the nurse in charge of the unit frantically trying to deal with Marion, who was now very upset and shaking.

I went to her, smiled, put my hand over the hand that was tapping and rubbed it. I looked over to the nurse who was obviously relieved to have someone come to her side.

I said, “What is it, Maid Marion?” as I called her frequently. She frowned a big frown. I kissed her cheek and decided the best thing to do was talk to the nurse and see what had transpired.

On my way out of the small living room area, I turned to Marion and stuck my index finger in the air and bent it several times as if to say, “I will be right back, don’t worry, I love you.” Marion must have thought this was wonderful and mimicked my action immediately.

I spoke with the nurse and after we documented what had happened, I went to check on Marion again. She was mimicking the action I had just performed to the other residents in the room—holding her index finger in the air, bending it up and down, in a little wave.

“What is she doing?” asked the nurse.

“I think she is telling the others that she loves them,” I said smiling.

The very next morning I discovered Marion waiting for me at the door. She smiled and hugged me and then made her finger sign for love. I smiled at her as the tears welled in my eyes. I could tell Marion had finally found a way to communicate what she had been longing to tell me: “I love you and thank you.”

Eventually this sign of love spread throughout the unit like wildfire. All the residents and staff used the sign of love with Marion and with each other.

Marion proved love can be conveyed without words, and that Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t change a person’s ability to share it.

Annisha Asaph

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