March 2, 2011

Crumpled Time

Absently, I press the code of numbers; changing the red light, green.  A slight click sounds, and quickly I turn a handle, opening solid cream colored doors.  I wonder what lies beyond these heavy barriers of time and space today. 

Two steps and I enter a place where time slips away not within the normal confines of ticking clocks, but in large Titanic ice berg portions, inconsistently ripping apart, falling into the sea, and slipping away on the waves.

The people who live here are as diverse as any random group.  Each has multitudes of memories as unique as themselves, but the ability to share them rapidly diminishes with each passing day. 

I have entered a care unit for individuals with late-stage Alzheimer's disease.

“Alzheimer's worsens over time. Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, where symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer's, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Those with Alzheimer's live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from three to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions.”

~ quoted from the Alzheimer’s Association website article:

distorts past, present, and future,
misaligns memories,
and skews time. 
Time becomes crumpled
like a discarded paper in the waste basket.

"Oh, good, you're here."  Glancing up from the charts and medicines, the nurse, a fellow worker, quietly acknowledges me, and begins relating the day's events, what each resident's day was like, and how each is doing.  It is a daily occurrence, casually meeting to glean essential information.

Nodding toward an open doorway, she finishes our conversation with, "we can't get her to lie down and rest."  Her eyes pleading for help. 

"I'll sit with her for a bit," I answer.

"Thanks."  She turns back to her work. 

I turn and enter a room.  An elderly woman is facing the window.  Her rounded shoulders sag as tired eyes gaze out the window onto a courtyard of green grass, bright flowers, and blue sky; a scene of serenity.

With minimal adjustment, two empty chairs face the window.  I touch her hand gently, lower my body slightly to gain eye contact, and greet her, "Good afternoon, mind if I join you?" 

She focuses on my face, smiles, and speaks.  I listen, watching her face, creased and aged.  Countless wrinkles etch her face, each a line in a story, her story.  She welcomes me to join her. 

"Would you like to sit for awhile?" I ask, motioning toward the chairs.  Slowly, she shuffles to the closer one and lowers her tired body.  I sit beside her. 

She speaks of times long ago, but 'recent' to her.  I wonder who she thinks I am, a friend from her youth?  She finishes, satisfied that I listened, and rests in comfortable silence. 

Several minutes pass, marked by ticking wall clocks.  Then, softly, she begins to sing..."I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses..."

I sit, waiting and listening. 

Steadily, the sound of heels hitting the laminated floor resound as someone enters the room.  Glancing over my shoulder, I see her daughter.  A woman, compassionate and caring, torn between her life's roles and responsibilities.  "How was she today?" she asks me, seeking honest answers.

"Fair," I respond, rising to greet her.  We step toward the door.  "She has done quite a bit of walking today, but is finally resting.  I was just sitting with her."

Tears form in her eyes.  She struggles to stop the flow, and glances down at her hands.  "Thank you...," she pauses unsure how to progress.  We are both quiet, listening to the singing.  The daughter begins anew, voice calmer, "Her faith was always so strong..."  Again, she falters, and quietly adds, "I remember."  Her eyes, vulnerable, searching for answers I do not have.

Her mom's voice resonates through the silence, "and He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own..."

Faintly, the daughter smiles, and moves toward her mom.  "I think it still is," she says as she sits in the chair I vacated only minutes ago.

"Alzheimer's has no current cure,
but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues."
Alzheimer's Association website article: What Is Alzheimer's? The Basics

The events described above happened years ago
while I worked as part of the therapeutic team in a long term care facility.
 The song sung: "In the Garden" by C. Austin Miles

This post is linked to Walk With Him Wednesdays at A Holy Experience.
This week's discussion topic is time.


  1. Your post today brought tears to my eyes and memories cascading back.. I worked on an Alzheimer unit back in nursing school.. I LOVE these people.. and their families. I had a great administrator who often talked about these wonderful amazing aged population and said that alzheimer disease is a lot like packing for your last journey.. The mind goes to lots of places that have been swept under the rug.. and makes it right..

    Thank you for sharing today!

  2. what a wonderful gift you gave to both the mother and the daughter! to the mother you gave the gifts and time, listening, and just being still. to the daughter you gave the gift of love, and of reassurance.

  3. I so loved your post today! I had tears in my eyes. What a beautiful ministry -- to work with these patients!!!!!

    I've often thought about what I want to leave behind, just in case when I get old, I can no longer speak my memories. The idea of journals, blogs, etc., are so wonderful -- they just don't record daily happenings, but the faith, feelings, and the soul of a person. Her song said so much, didn't it!!!

    I'm so glad I stopped by today. It was like drinking from a cool spring on a warm day!

  4. That was so beautiful!

  5. Dorie,

    While this story was on the sad side, it was also beautiful, and touched my heart deeply.

    When I was in my mid-twenties, I was attending the university for my degree in Social Work. I had to do some internship work for that degree. For the first semester, I actually worked with alzhiemer's patients, who were in the early stages of this disease.

    Your story reminded me of a women who used to talk with me often. She would always tell me, "When you find the man you want to marry, don't let him go. There is no point in dating and going from man to man." She would tell me this each day, as well as her story about how she met her husband by following this advice.

    I had forgotten about her until I read your story . . .

    Thank you for sharing these tender moments with us.

    -Lady Rose

  6. This post brought tears to my eyes. So awesome that the faith that carried her through life remains strong even though her mind is weak. So sweet that you sat with her and listened, we all need that no matter what our circumstances are.

  7. I too was brought to tears by this post, but for different reasons. My mother is in the middle stages of Alzheimer's decline (stage 4 or 5), and your post was just the gentle reminder I needed, that I needed to spend more time with her, sitting and listening, mostly by phone (she lives 7 hours away by car), but still, more time. Thanks for your post!! God Bless✞✞✞

  8. I’m here from Ann’s I know it’s Saturday – but I’m playing catch up – there were so many “Thank you” posts to read I didn’t even start reading the Wednesday linky until today.

    But it doesn’t affect time – just the perception of it. I guess that’s the point – time neither slows down r speeds up – but how we perceive it can change – either involuntarily by illness – or by choice. What wisdom. And what a tender piece of writing.


    Thank you for this today.

    God Bless and keep you and all of yours


Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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