Image by Klaas De Buysser via Flickr
Written by Karen D. Swim
I walked from my husband’s hospital room out into the hallway. I had become a familiar fixture and the staff welcomed me as one of their own. I had been given access to the fresh linens and the staff lounge. I would chat with the nurses while microwaving tea or share a laugh as I grabbed linen to change my husband’s bed. On this day, as I headed out into the familiar sterility, an older woman caught my eye. She was about 5 feet 4 inches tall with salt and pepper colored hair. She was wearing a hospital gown and slippers and held a black handbag firmly on her arm. It was a bag that more aptly could be described as a pocketbook. A relic from years gone by when women wore hats on their heads and stockings on their legs.
She made her way toward me and I saw the twinkle that remained in her aging eyes. She gently touched my hand and asked, “Do you know when the train is coming?” Momentarily confused, I then realized the poor old dear had dementia. “No, I’m not sure when the train is coming, but why don’t we wait over here?” I commented as I tried gently leading her back to her room. She smiled and began to tell me how she was traveling to see her daughter. I linked arms with her as we made our way toward her room listening to her tales.
Her mind remained in a time long past but her dignity was ever present. In her hospital gown with her purse firmly in her grip, I could tell that she was truly a lady. Her held remained held high as she waited joyfully in a hospital hallway that had become her railway station.
I am not sure why I recall this story today but all these years later I can still see the twinkle in her eye. As I now pass through a season of aging with my own family members, I am filled with hope that our minds may fade but the essence of who we are is never lost. The twinkle in our eyes, the joy in our hearts is not dimmed by time. In this season of the year when we pause to reflect and give thanks, for this I am truly thankful.
Have you had to deal with aging issues? Any tips to share with those that may be enduring this season of life with parents, relatives? Feel free to share on topic or off. All discussion is welcomed. Hang out and strike up a conversation with me or anyone else. The doors are always open for you and that cushy chair has your name on it. 🙂
Melissa Donovan says
It’s so sad to watch someone you love age like that, especially when they lose track of time and place. My family is coping with it right now and the best you can do is be grateful for each day and remember that when the most painful moment comes, they are going to be with all our other loved ones together. Nothing can make the pain go away completely but it helps a lot to gather and remember and just cry and cry and cry.
Karen Swim says
@Evelyn, I have no doubt that your zest for life will never ever wane. You are so full of wonder and joy and so graciously share it with the world. Even virtually, I see that twinkle in your eye.
@Ulla, my heart goes out to you. I can only imagine how difficult that was for you and your family. Personality changes can be a cruel experience especially if you do not immediately realize it is not the person but the illness. Your dad sounds like such a loving man, so it must have been especially tough for you.
@Jamie, I was so moved by the post you wrote about your grandmother. I really appreciate your openness and the reminder to live. You are so right we all have “stuff” and we can spend our lives allowing life to happen or we can grab hold and live it. I am only sorry that your grandmother was not able to work through that but I am so thankful that you have not inherited that trait.
Jamie Grove - How Not To Write says
When my grandmother passed away, I was reminded of how unfair she felt her life had been. And frankly, I think she had a valid complaint…
She was born in 1910 and lived through all the major upheavals of the early 20th century. Her husband died at 38 leaving her with three young boys to raise on her own. She worked very hard only to end up having a stroke and spending her last years wondering how God could be so cruel as to let her live through said stroke. (This was her regular complaint until she lost connection with reality).
That said, I learned from her that while life can be a very brutal affair it must be lived. And if you are to live life, you should do so with all your heart. If you do not find a way to enjoy life, it will find ways to remind you over-and-over again that it can always be worse.
This doesn’t address the reality of aging of course, but I think that just as it is with children, the aging of family members must be endured with patience and love.
Ulla Hennig says
Some years ago I witnessed how my father changed his personality. He’d always been a very kind man, seeking for harmony in his life, loving nature (especially roses). He hated it when people around him talked bad about other people. But all of a sudden he changed; he thought that people caring for him took away his money or his watch. He talked bad about my older brother and my other husband’s wife. First I could not understand it at all and felt terribly hurt. Then I and my brothers realized that he was ill, and could not made responsible for what he said and did. But it was a cruel experience for us.
Evelyn Lim says
Karen, the story you shared brought tears to my eyes. I have always felt that it important that I continue to keep myself mentally challenged.
However, you’ve pointed out something more fundamental to me today. It’s about the essence of who we are. I hope now never to lose the twinkle in my eyes, the joy in my heart and a curiosity that makes living an adventure everyday!
Thanks once again,
Karen Swim says
@Wendi, my father had recurring dreams of a runaway train when I was growing up. I had forgotten about until I read your comment. I can remember my mother asking “Train dream again.” Now as I read your comment, it is chilling indeed. Good lord woman, I don’t want that train leaving me at the station either!
@Brad, patience is a word that comes up alot and I know it is not always easy. Just being there…good advice for us all because even if we’re young and healthy sometimes that is what we need too someone to just be there.
@Susan, I am so sorry for your loss. I never heard the buddha comment but that’s pretty powerful. Wow, I am going to remember that as it really is appropriate, they are at peace, calm and blissfully spared. Thanks for that Susan. I know your words will touch others.
@Karl, whenever you need an ear for anything drop by, door is open and so is my heart. I have a lot of experience with non-compliant diabetic patients. It is so hard to get them to change behavior but there is hope. Does your mom like to cook/bake? If so, local hospitals usually have free cooking classes for diabetics and she can learn to make wonderful goodies without sugar, it will also get her involved in actively taking care of her health. If you need backup, I can explain the entire endocrine system to her in plain English and the impact of her sugar eating ways. 🙂 Just holler if I can help.
Karl Staib - Work Happy Now says
I’ve had to deal with aging issues with my parents. They are still relatively young (mid sixties), but trying to get them to change their habits has been tough. My mother has diabetes and she won’t stop eating candy. If she keeps this up her type 2 diabetes will escalate.
I know this has nothing to do with dementia, but I just had to write this somewhere.
Thanks for listening.
Susan/Unique Business Opportunity says
My mother suffered from a brain tumor before she died. It was gut wrenching to watch her mind and body deteriorate. The amazing thing was that until almost the very end she had a smile for everyone who came to see her. The best advice I can give is to be kind and appreciate every moment you have with them. Someone once said that old people and dying people are like budas. It’s an honor and a privilege to be in their presence.
Brad Shorr says
Hi Karen, What a poignant post. I’ve had several close relatives go through similar difficulties. It takes a lot of patience sometimes, but I learned that the most important thing is to just be there for a person. It really doesn’t matter if you talk or if the conversation makes sense. Just having someone there perked them up, brought back that twinkle in their eye you describe so well.
Wendi Kelly-Life's Little Inspirations says
When I was in my teens and my twenties I would have a reacurring dream that I was in a train station very similiar to the one in your picture, just sitting on a bench with all of my luggage. JUST WAITING. In the distance, I could hear the droning on of the train whistle as it slowly came closer and closer. I would sit in anticipation, WAITING…
Then suddenly the train would wisk past like a whirlwind without ever even stopping. I would sit back down,
and go back to waiting….
and hear the sound of the train droning on in the distance…over and over again.
I would wake up drenched in fear that my entire life was going to wisk past me while I waited….
Your woman sounds gracious and kind, but to me, it is a chilling reminder of an old fear, and how much I would hate to wake up old and lost, waiting for that train again in my mind.
Nothing gets me up and going with a DO IT NOW attitude like thinking about that darn train.
Karen Swim says
Lillie, thank you for those encouraging words. My mother was a nurse and often worked with the elderly. I spent a great deal of time watching her with patients and I am humbled that I gained a fraction of what she gave. She was a wonderful woman who brought joy to everyone. I am sorry about your Dad, Alzheimer’s is so hard on the family. Thank you again Lillie for your words. You are one of a kind.
Lillie Ammann says
The way you responded to this woman speaks volumes about you. So many people try to convince the person with dementia they are wrong or they become frustrated and impatient with them. My father had Alzheimer’s for many years before his death so I’m very aware of this. My sister is a social worker in a nursing home, and she is constantly frustrated with how people—even professionals—treat patients with dementia. Yet you instinctively treated the woman with dignity and respect.