69: Comic Relief

69: Comic Relief

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

Comic Relief

Humor is merely tragedy standing on its head with its pants torn.

~Irvin S. Cobb

After two years of caregiving for my mom, I learned to be with her in the present — or past. Asking her what she had for lunch did not work. She couldn’t remember. Complimenting her on the craft items she had made earlier in the week did not work either. She thought someone else had made them.

I also learned not to fight a losing battle. There is no point disagreeing with someone who is passionate about something. It’s better to enter their world and solve the problem for them… in their reality, not in yours.

And finally, it’s important to let yourself laugh. There were plenty of laughs along the way in the assisted living complex where Mom lived during those two years. I felt a twinge of guilt laughing at the behaviors and remarks of the residents, but as friends would often remind me, “You either laugh or you cry.”

One of the aides once asked Carrie, a ninety-eight-year-old resident, if she was ready to go into the dining room for dinner, and she replied, “Oh no, I can’t do that. My mother is coming by this afternoon.”

Elsie, a resident with Alzheimer’s who frequently sat in the lobby, reached up to me one day from her wheelchair and whispered, “Did you get an invitation to the party?”

I hesitated, not knowing how to respond, then answered, “No, did you?”

She slumped in her chair and said, “No.”

I leaned in and whispered, “I’ll find out who is invited and let you know. How would that be?” Her eyes lit up and she gave me a high five. Felt like high school all over again.

My mom cracked me up every now and then, too. When I told her my best friend from high school was coming to town for our fiftieth high school reunion, she leaned in and grinned. “Does Shirley know you’re old?”

One day during craft hour, I sat with Mom helping her color a page with clowns on it. A dozen or so of us were sitting around a large table with bowls of Magic Markers on it. The ladies were laughing and teasing while coloring, freely using the markers before tossing them back into the bowls. Except for Roxie.

The activities director leaned over Roxie’s shoulder and asked, “Why aren’t you coloring, Roxie?” Roxie turned to the director and said, flat out, “I can’t use these markers. They’re for left-handed people!” I had to stifle myself on that one.

Ginny caught my arm one day as I entered the facility demanding to know if I had stolen her clothes. When I told her no, she screamed, “Liar!”

I told her maybe I could help her find them. Together we walked hand-in-hand to her room and opened the closet door. It was full. “There, Ginny,” I said, “Your clothes are back where they belong. Isn’t that great?” She reached over and gave me a bear hug.

I was proud that I was learning to enter the world of these individuals instead of looking at things from my vantage point. I had to accept the fact that my mom, because of her short-term memory loss, had become someone else. And, because of that, I, too, had to become someone else.

Then there was Margie, who rushed into the office one day wringing her hands, on the verge of tears, begging, “I need help; I’ve lost January.” I had overheard the remark sitting in the lobby, and wondered how the director would handle that one. The executive director got up from her chair, came rushing around her desk and grabbed Margie, saying, “Let’s go to your room.” A few minutes later she returned with the story. Margie had turned over the page in her calendar that read December and there was no January page. Margie was promised a new calendar. Problem solved with finesse.

Most of those dear souls have passed away, including my mom. Others were sent to nursing homes; a few to other facilities. But all left an impression on those of us who were left behind.

~Rosemary Barkes

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