Inside the simple, gold-colored box, wrapped in cobalt-blue tissue paper, was the perfect Christmas gift.
“Do you like it?” asked Lo Lo, my mom, who has Alzheimer’s.
Before answering, I looked around at about 30 friends and family members who were visiting the 42 residents the other night at Clare Bridge memory care unit in Cary. It was the Family Holiday Celebration and there was a magical feeling of fellowship and song.
The lobby area of the building was decked out with a big Christmas tree and festive decorations. There was hot apple cider, hot chocolate and caramel apple nut coffee with a variety of desserts. There also were carolers -- The Beach Bunnies, a group of friends who have traveled to the beach together for years and came to support a dear friend, Jackie Marshall, a resident at Clare Bridge.
As the piano player began “Jingle Bells,” I saw Gwen, a friend of mine, talk quietly to her mother, another resident. Another friend sat with his arm around his wife, who lives at Clare Bridge and, at age 65, has lost much of her ability to comprehend words and communicate.
I turned back to Lo Lo to answer her question.
In her hands, nestled in the open tissue paper, was a marbled and sparkling Christmas ornament that the Clare Bridge staff had helped each resident decorate. The ornament, in Lo Lo’s handwriting, read:
I smiled at my mom, 80, and said: “I love it Lo Lo!”
Then, one of Lo Lo’s resident friends, Bobby, a World War II veteran, walked behind Lo Lo and put his hands on her shoulders as she sat. He winked at me and said: "She’s a good 'un."
I couldn’t help but thinking next of some wise words from one of my daughters, Maggie. She sometimes reminds me not to dwell on the negative aspects of Alzheimer’s. Instead, she says, it’s important to focus on the fact that the victims also often are having fun even though they may not be living in the moment.
Maggie should know. A graduate student at N.C. State University, she is majoring in social work and spends part of her time working in a memory care facility in Raleigh. She also is an intern at a recovery and rehabilitation facility in Raleigh for homeless people with alcohol and drug dependency.
Below is what Maggie offered up in an e-mail to me after I wrote the first blog for WRAL last month.
My blogs are accompanying the “Life with Lo Lo” stories being reported by WRAL's Cullen Browder. “Sun-downing,” a phrase Maggie uses in her e-mail, refers to the behavioral changes that Lo Lo sometimes experiences – that is, her mood can become more negative at night.
I enjoyed reading your blog. I think it will be therapeutic for you, and maybe if you get responses, you will get some comfort talking to other children of parents with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s.
I realized after talking to Cullen yesterday that I did not always call Lo Lo “Lo Lo." I used to call her “Grandma.” It was only recently that I started calling her Lo Lo, I think after her memory starting failing her.
It's like Lo Lo is a different person from the grandmother I knew growing up. And I am okay with that. That thought is comforting to me. And better to focus on the fact that she is happy and healthy, and not on the negative. She doesn't know she has Alzheimer’s.
I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness from your blog and that makes me sad. Lo Lo lived a wonderful long life, and she is in good hands. Focusing on the negative won't do anything good. You have to just smile and laugh, and realize your loved one is not the same person he or she is today.
I work with 35 people with Alzheimer’s every day. And yes, they are nuts sometimes, but they laugh and are happy. Most of the time. Sun-downing is so true, but it’s a small fraction of the day.
I don't know if any of this is any help, but I do hope these blogs and the WRAL News stories are therapeutic for you and will give you some peace – and help others.
Wise words indeed.
And, in these yuletide times especially, we, the Simpsons, are very thankful that Lo Lo, despite her many mini-strokes, remains healthy, often is happy and still recognizes who we are.
In addition, we are very thankful for the excellent work of Cullen Browder and the WRAL team.
They are helping to spotlight, through the “Life with Lo Lo” series, the wide-ranging aspects of what it is like for the victims, caregivers and the many others who are living with this terrible disease – and how to help.
We would be remiss if we did not include in our thanks the patience and fine work of news photographer Greg Clark, Web news editor Kelly Hinchcliffe and co-anchors David Crabtree and Pam Saulsby.
We cannot say enough about what we think is a great staff at Clare Bridge, as well as other memory care facilities, in their efforts to provide shelters in these Alzheimer’s storms.
Finally, we are equally very thankful for the hundreds of contacts, stories and input many of you in the Triangle community have offered to all of us through the “Life with Lo Lo” efforts. Please keep it coming. Happy holidays friends!