At 3:45 I climb down the stairwell to the Alzheimer unit. I unlock the heavy door, to enter a world of altered consciousness. A world where time stretches and ebbs forward, where lost boys live, where women are mourning injustices.
As I walk down the hall I greet the usual explorers, pacing their way through this strange world. How did I get here?
I wonder where they are.
He meets my eye. His screaming out for help. Our gaze locks and I prepare to do what I am here to do.
He fires off in Mandarin, showing me a piece of paper listing his morning meal. At the bottom there is his name. He points to it and repeats it. And again.
I maintain our gaze, softening my eyes, inviting him to find peace there. I ask him to tell me what is wrong, but in order to understand he will have to speak in English. He takes a deep breath, stammering, “I Have Forgotten Everything” he manages.
My heart trips over itself and I have to grasp for that calming gaze. Tears threaten to push through and I fear they will tell him: You should be scared.
We share a moment of silence. “I know you are afraid. I am here to help you.” I believe it. This phrase means little if you don’t believe it. In a world of lost boys and girls I believe there is hope for enjoyment.
It is heartbreaking to sit with anyone affected by dementia. Especially in those moments that they realize that something is terribly wrong.
A name. A fleeting recognition of a past life.
A revelation that you have been forgotten.
It is terrifying. As a caregiver, part of my work is to remember this person. To memorialize a spirit is the height of ritual. This collective ritual enables us all to live on in each others memory.