Reflections from the Alois –
Thanksgiving, we told the circle, was just a week away. Without any concept of time, each one shook their head in acknowledgement, but was unable to connect blue skies and sunshine with the typical rainy Ohio Thanksgiving in their
We laughed about how many turkeys Americans might consume on this day, could it really be close to 250 million? And oh, the pounds of cranberries, and not just the kind that come in the can.
F. marched in with a new autumn orange sweater on, to match that of Leigh’s. I too had dressed up, and felt the occasion was a worthy one.
Per our usual routine, R., the assistant at the Alois, rounded up the residents who would be participating in the sharing circle. Looking back on notes from our first class, only ML. and W. and F. had been in continuous attendance. And too, B., whose had fallen off. She wore a trench coat inside now, where there was no threat of rain.
And J. ,when asked about, I was told, “She is too confused anymore to sit through a class.” J. who first wrote, “I am fun. I love to make silly jokes.” In recent times, she had simply sat to listen to our voices, and give hugs when requested. She would no longer be in attendance though she would always be part of any circle that we remembered. Our favorite remembrance of J. would be, as we discussed food, and she motioned, “those little crunchy things you pour milk over.” “Cereal,” we shouted in unison. Her description is still a catchphrase for us, when we are at a loss for words.
As R. made her rounds, I asked about another one of our originals, as we like to call them. “Where is D.?” She hadn’t been in attendance all Fall. Rinda replied, “D. passed away last week.” This I was told before beginning our circle, and thus, my interaction with each resident took on new meaning, for I didn’t know when it might be the last.
I locked eyes longer, made more jokes at my own expense, and really listened, sometimes prodding them for more information than they might have first offered, producing a treasure chest full of sentiments.
After class, M., the activities director extraordinaire, spoke again about D., “We held the memorial service here, and her family then took her to be buried in Pittsburgh.” He explained how crowded the service had been, and that he was sorry he didn’t think to invite us.
I shook that off, as we acknowledged how residents come to feel like family here. “The staff really took an interest in D. She was a mess when she came, but everybody worked with her, to get her in the right meds, get her walking. They never gave up.”
They never gave up.
These words echoed in my head throughout the day, as I reflected on Mom’s condition. Lately, I have been hit with an onslaught of peers moving their parent to a secure facility. I tell them nothing compares to the Alois, the staff, the treatment of the residents, how they support outside activities, how they push each resident.
When one enters the Alois, it is not with the intention that this is the end. It is with the goal of starting over, correcting mistakes by other medical or non-medical staff not as educated in the field of dementia, helping the resident re-establish a healthy routine which they might have fallen out due to lack of oversight, as is the case with my mother and when she finally stopped cooking or bathing.
I push my mom. It drives her crazy. Sometimes, she will throw an air punch at me and say, “Why don’t you just leave me alone?” I have answers for her, a play on my own fears, but even deeper, a resolve to never give up on Mom.
I see much of her in the women at the Alois- the reflection is in their eyes, their laugh, their singing. But mostly, I see Mom in their sheer effort to be awake in the moment, despite their physical and mental challenges – encroaching blindness, crippling hands, weakening minds.
Today, the circle, average age 80-something, gave thanks for their “good health”, having eyes and ears to still see and hear, for God and “Gospel friends”, family and “being included.” Today, I give thanks for D. and the rest of the circle, for Mom, for never giving up.