86: TGIF

86: TGIF

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


There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.

~Ben Williams

The door opens and the woman who peers out at me looks somewhat apprehensive, leaving the door only slightly cracked. “Yes?” she asks softly.

Then she looks down, and when she sees my two Shih Tzus wagging their tails, her face lights up. She opens the door wide, her arms out to welcome us in.

“Oh, I hoped it would be you!” she says excitedly, clapping her hands together. She calls out to her husband, who is napping but wakes up as soon as he hears his name.

“Fred! Look who it is! It’s Panda and Koala!” Then she turns to me with a sheepish grin. “And Geoff and Kristi too, of course.”

She walks over and wraps my husband in a loving embrace. “I’m so glad you came.”

She talks as she shuffles along in front of us. “You know, I’ve been thinking about you all week. On Wednesday I wondered if you were coming and yet you didn’t. Then yesterday I thought we’d missed you, but then I told myself, no Helen, Friday. That’s the day they come. And now, here it is!”

I smile at her enthusiasm. I encourage them to make themselves comfortable in their recliners and then carefully put one dog on each of their laps. They sit patiently while I pull bags of dog treats out of my pocket. Then they spend the next several minutes trying to get their stiff, arthritic fingers into the bags to dig out the treats for Panda and Koala.

“Your cough is gone.” Helen says to Geoff. “You look much better today.” My heart fills. Not only did she remember him, she remembered that he’d been sick.

Helen and Fred are just some of the residents in the Alzheimer’s unit we visit once a week. I’ve been bringing my dogs here for nine months now. My husband joined me recently and has become almost as attached to the routine as I have.

I watch Helen stroking Koala until he lies on his side and closes his eyes. I marvel at how easy it has become for her to get my formerly abused and shy little dog to relax completely. She will stroke and talk softly to him for most of our visit.

“They are just the sweetest things,” she whispers.

Panda is sprawled across Fred’s lap. He’s rubbing her belly and her eyes begin to close in contentment.

“Oh, I just love these two little buggers,” Fred says chuckling.

He points at the framed collage I made for them with pictures of each dog, the two of them together and the four of us, all with labels in big lettering.

“Do you know that’s one of my favorite things? Now let’s see, this one here,” he points to Panda, “Is the one in the top right picture?”

“Yep,” I say. “The one labeled Panda.”

“Yes, Fred. You can tell by the white spot on the head. See?” Helen points to the smaller spot on Koala’s head. “This is the one in the top left. Right?” she looks at me questioningly.

“Right!” I say, smiling. I noticed she remembered the white spot reference I’d provided several visits ago.

Geoff begins to talk about his work with fish and wildlife.

“That’s what I did, you know,” Fred says.

“I know,” Geoff says. “Tell me the deer-in-the-cage story again.”

Fred chuckles and tells us the story. We laugh and ask the right questions. And occasionally Helen adds something. Or she turns to me and points to Koala and giggles. She can’t remember where they lived or her sons’ ages, but she remembers that Koala snores.

It’s never easy to end the visits. But at some point we have to and Fred and Helen reluctantly bid goodbye to Panda and Koala. They give us each a hug.

“You take care of yourself,” Fred tells us.

“We’ll see you next Friday, okay?” we tell them, stressing the word Friday.

Then we head into the lounge. Despite saying goodbye to them in their room, Fred and Helen have followed us out.

“Be careful with those mean dogs,” Fred says, laughing. Helen giggles.

We make our way out, stopping for the staff members who kneel down to get kisses and sneezes from the dogs. No matter how long we’re there, I’m constantly astounded by the effect the dogs have on the residents. They remember us, they remember the dogs, and it brings out memories, stories, and songs. It calms them and makes them visibly happy.

It’s not easy to become attached to someone and then lose them, but we do it because it makes our day as much as it does theirs. So many of them tell us how much they miss their own dogs. Sharing ours for a couple hours is the least we can do.

I wave to Fred and Helen as we go.

“You’re just the best part of my week,” she says, and my heart is full.

~Kristi Cocchiarella FitzGerald

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