89: Those Damn Rings!

89: Those Damn Rings!

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

Those Damn Rings!

It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little — do what you can.

~Sydney Smith

What was it about those damn rings? Why was she talking about them now? She hadn’t worn her wedding set for years, and now she was asking for it. Didn’t she remember that she was divorced? If we ever brought up his name she got angry and left the room. She had taken those rings off years ago and had not mentioned his name again. Didn’t she remember how much she disliked her ex-husband? I guess her Alzheimer’s had progressed enough to cleanse that memory.

My aunt could no longer live alone. She was unable to care for herself and while she had moments of clarity, much of the time she was living in the past and was confused. She had no children, so my husband and I were in charge. We had to put her in an assisted living facility for her own safety and for our peace of mind. That’s when the problem with the rings started.

At most assisted living facilities, residents cannot keep items of value in their rooms. Money, credit cards and jewelry all fall in this category. My aunt’s wedding set was pretty flashy, with a big stone in the middle of her engagement ring. There was no way Blanche, the head of the facility, would allow her to wear her wedding set.

“Where are my damn rings?” she asked the day after we moved her in.

“What rings?” I asked.

“You know damn well which rings I mean. I haven’t taken my rings off for years, and now you are keeping them from me. Those rings are so very special to me. They were given to me by my devoted husband — the man I love. And now you won’t give them to me. I want my rings. Now!”

I visited her almost every day, and every day instead of saying “Hello, nice to see you,” she’d say, “Where are my damn rings and when are you going to give them back to me?”

I tried to focus her attention on something else. That didn’t work. I tried substituting another ring for her wedding set but she would have none of that. She forgot so many things — what she had for lunch, that she had even had lunch. Why couldn’t she forget about her rings? And why was I the bad guy? She never asked my husband where her rings were. She didn’t get mad at him. Only me.

I tried to distract her but our conversations always came back to her rings. It became such a problem that I finally met with Blanche and talked to her about the situation. I told her that my aunt wanted her rings and nothing I did seemed to distract her from the subject. I told her I would sign a waiver stating that if anything happened to the rings I would not hold the facility liable. I would take full responsibility for the rings. Blanche was not happy about it, but she agreed that my aunt could have her rings back, because it would calm her and make her easier to deal with.

The next day, when I came to visit, I was greeted with the usual sour face and the question about her rings. I casually pulled them out of my pocket and handed them over. She was silent for the longest time and then she put them on. And then she smiled. At me! I told her that she needed to keep them safe and she should not take them off — ever. She assured me she would be careful.

The next time I visited she was pretty quiet and she had a towel over her hand. “What wrong with your hand?” I asked. “Nothing at all,” she answered, and got up and closed the door. Then she looked left and right and whispered in a conspiratorial tone, “I’m hiding my rings so no one will see them.”

“You don’t have to do that, Aunt Clare. You wanted your rings, so you should wear them and enjoy them. People will think it’s strange and wonder why you have a towel draped over your hand and it will draw even more attention to your rings.”

When I got there the next day the rings were not on her hand. Oh no! I didn’t know if she would remember where they were, but it didn’t hurt to ask.

“Aunt Clare, I see that you’re not wearing your rings. Where are they?”

She got this strange look on her face and once again got up and closed the door to her room. Then she looked left and right and came over to me and whispered, “I hid them.”

Great! She had Alzheimer’s and she had hidden her rings. Where in the world had she put them? Would she remember or were they lost forever? I had to try to find them so I whispered back, “Please show me where they are.”

She thought for a long time and then slowly went over to her closet, opened the door, reached up on the shelf and there, wadded up in some tissue, were her rings. How easily those crumpled tissues could have been viewed as trash. This whole situation was going from bad to worse. It was almost funny, except it wasn’t.

My poor aunt, who couldn’t remember that she hated her ex-husband, did remember that I told her to be careful with her rings. Who knew what would happen the next time I came to visit? Where would the rings be?

When I arrived the next day she was sitting in the chair in her room looking out to the garden. I tried very hard not to look at her hand to see if she was wearing her rings. Don’t look, I told myself… don’t look… don’t look. But I couldn’t help myself. I looked, and there they were. On her finger. Safe.

But the look on her face told me she wanted to tell me something. I sat down and waited. Because of Alzheimer’s, it usually took her a moment to organize her thoughts. She looked at me, looked at her rings, looked at me, and then back at her rings.

She took her rings off and handed them to me. “Here,” she said. “I don’t think I should be wearing my rings in this place. I want you to have them; I’m done with them.”

“Okay, Aunt Clare. I’ll take them and I promise you I’ll keep them safe.” She smiled. I smiled. And she never spoke of her damn rings again!

~Madison Thomas

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