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Alzheimer’s Christmas: “The Visitor”

Beautiful gray-haired elderly woman ageing in place Christmas

“Like the wind crying endlessly through the universe, Time carries away the names and the deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we are, all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment.”

-Harlan Ellison

 

True story about Xmas by Christine Kinnard

Christmas Day
It was 6 a.m. on Christmas morning when a strange woman tapped at the door. She was dressed only in her night clothes. The lady was cold and dazed and Brian invited her in for tea.

Brian, a retired 84-year-old doctor, rang his son to announce there was a rather good-looking old woman in a nightgown having tea in his kitchen. Brian’s son, who lived two hours away, thought Brian had finally lost his grip on reality so rang the police to check him out.

The police went to Brian’s house and sure enough, there was a scantily dressed woman, now with a blanket wrapped around her, sitting by the fire sipping tea. Unable to give them either her name or address the police decided to go around the village knocking on doors to see if people could help with their inquiries.

A local shop owner suggested a house where he knew an old lady was staying for Christmas. Arriving at the house the police asked whether the lady was in. The old lady’s friend said she was but there was little point in checking as her friend was unable to walk far.

The police asked if she would check anyway and sure enough, the bed was empty. Far from being in bed, the old lady had left the house and, in complete darkness dressed only in her night clothes, had wandered for around a mile in freezing weather. On seeing Brian’s Christmas tree lights she simply turned up on the doorstep!

Having now finished tea, cereal, toast, some Christmas cake, the lady was finally collected by her flustered friend.

Things Don’t Count Anymore

The Holidays are so much about memories. Bill Thomas noted: Once past the age of 30, we become custodians of a past that have vanished from the world. This is especially true at holiday time.

Being a keeper of the Holiday stories and traditions requires memory of the past; but what if there comes a time when memory vanishes?

For many, Christmas and New Years will be spent not in the family home where memories were once created—but in care facilities where meaning-making is moment-to-moment and melts away like icicles in the mid-day sun.

Reading an account of a woman whose mother had advanced stage Alzheimer’s and was living in a care center reminded me of a different Holiday scenario. She noted that residents have lost the concept of mine/yours – they wander into others rooms and take things. So – don’t give anything of value – it disappears quickly. Things like books or magazines are fine to carry around, but not to read. And “favorite” anything is erased from memory…Things don’t count anymore.

Present-Absence of Advanced Alzheimer’s

The person with advanced Alzheimer’s is there in body, yet lacking in memory; a “present-absence” that is heartbreaking for loved ones. What counts is a mindful presence, a hug, “I love you,” a walk together. Reminders that they are a part of a loving family, talk of good times, and how they made a difference in the lives of others and to listen.

Nothing to unwrap, no receipts to keep or take back, only moments shared in the spirit of the season. In time the disease carries away the names and the deeds of the past, what remains (for the keepers of the stories) is an opportunity to show kindness and to remember for them…

See

Making a Difference One Mind at a Time Teepa Snow

Alzheimer’s Care The Deeply Forgetful on Christmas