‘See You Tomorrow.’

“But just because I’ll forget it some tomorrow doesn’t mean that I didn’t live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that doesn’t mean that today didn’t matter.” – Still Alice

During my last year of undergrad, one of my favorite professors gave out an interesting assignment. She challenged us to volunteer somewhere that made us very uncomfortable. Admitting that she probably wouldn’t know if we were lying, she was trusting us to leave our comfort zones on our own accord. This is something I try to challenge myself to do on a regular basis. I’ve always believed that leaving the places I feel the safest will encourage me to be a stronger and more open-minded individual. If it’s at all possible to feel comfortable leaving a comfort zone, I do. So I knew that to truly fulfill this assignment, I would not only have to get out of my comfort zone, but also skip, jump and fly over it.

Of all the scary things in my life that I’ve done, walking in to volunteer at Cedar Ridge Alzheimer’s Center for the first time was amongst the most terrifying. It was not the people that scared me, but a disease so ferocious in its ability to completely take over a human mind. That first day, I hand-fed a grown woman while a resident on the other side of the room continuously moaned in what sounded like complete misery. I honestly felt that I might pass out. So taken aback by what I saw as such an overwhelming sadness, I felt my body reacting physically. I could not wait to get out of there that day.

cedarridge

It didn’t take much time until my required volunteer hours were completed, but then a funny thing happened. I began seeing less of the disease and more of the person behind it. Sometimes it was simply a smile or a sparkle in the eye. Other times it was a witty comment, small talk or reading a short bio outside of a resident’s door. What I had at first failed to acknowledge was that this disease was only a small chapter of the residents’ lives. In previous chapters there were careers, hobbies, families, passions, accomplishments and lives well lived. Dementia was only a small part of their stories. I began researching and reading about Alzheimer’s to have a better understanding of what those at Cedar Ridge were going through. And I kept going back.

It’d be a lie to say that I don’t still have to mentally prepare myself for hard moments. Residents often feel lost, or are searching for someone, or become upset because they want to go to a home that they don’t realize is no longer theirs. During my last visit, a woman I was chatting with asked me to read something for her because I had a “better brain.” I would imagine that the rare moments of lucidity are the most difficult part for those in later stages of Alzheimer’s. But in the midst of this constant confusion and heartbreak, there is also joy. I fair and square lost more than one game of dominoes to a sweet old soul. Cookies and warm conversation have been shared with a group of lovely ladies. I’ve read magazines, watched movies and listened to live music with some truly great company. One charming gentleman wandered around in search for his family, but still managed to smile and flirt whenever he passed my way. Amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles be damned, it only took a bit of searching to see the beautiful hearts and terrific personalities I was surrounded by at Cedar Ridge.

After learning of my pregnancy, I went back to Cedar Ridge once more before realizing that I should take a break. Usually a person with a firm grip on emotions, my hormones were now causing me to cry at the drop of a hat. Knowing what both I and the residents could and couldn’t handle, I waited.

I went back for the first time last weekend. In the past, I’ve always wondered how much good I was really doing. Even if I was able to help in some miniscule way, wouldn’t it only be forgotten soon after? Did my being there for such a short time really help anyone at all? I wasn’t sure. As I was saying my goodbyes last Saturday, one woman stopped me with her words. “Don’t go.” she said, the kindest smile on her face. We embraced as she went to kiss my cheeks. And then, “See you tomorrow.”

I told her I would see her soon, and then I left. Maybe she forgot about me as soon as I walked out the door. But in those few moments, we were both able to make a positive mark in the other’s life. If only for a short time, we shared smiles and caused happiness. I knew that I would not see her the next day, and she might not have any recollection of telling me that she would. Still, we had today. And that was enough.

13 thoughts on “‘See You Tomorrow.’

  1. Alzheimer’s is horrible. My Great Grandmother passed away due to complications from it, and my Grandmother is now dealing with mid-stages of the disease. I wish more people would realize how horrible it is. We hear so much about fundraising for cancers yet hardly anything for this or other neurological diseases. What you did was great! Even if they only remembered you for the time you were there, it was something.

    • I completely agree. Also unlike cancer, Alzheimer’s patients are not treated with respect or admiration for their courageous battle, but are often ignored, avoided or treated like they are contagious. Further Alzheimer’s awareness and research is so very important. Thank you for your kind words!

  2. WOW, this was such a great post. You have a kind heart my friend and sometimes a simple sentence can tell us we are indeed making a difference!! Thank you for giving back to your community like this.❤

  3. I was near tears reading this post! My sweet grandmother, who my blog is in homage to, passed away after a long battle with Dementia. It was absolutely horrible to see but those little moments, those glimmers of hope, make it worth it to stick around….because while 99% of the time they may not know you’re there, just your presence there that 1% that they wake up and are looking for human companionship and love, that is so, so, so important. Thank you so much for volunteering at a place like that! We should all do more things that scare us.

    • I am so sorry to hear about your grandma. As heartbreaking as it is seeing strangers dealing with Alzheimer’s, I can only imagine how hard it would be to see a loved one go through it. But yes, the glimmers of hope are such a beautiful thing to witness. Thank you for the sweet words!🙂

  4. I love that you do this. As you know, my father-in-law has dementia and it has been difficult for our family as we cope with it. Knowing that there are people like you who are willing to volunteer and shed some light into the lives of people like my father-in-law just really touches my heart. Thanks for doing what you do!

  5. I volunteered at home for dementia patients and saw/experienced a lot of the same things you described. It always made me feel sad, but I knew that it was worth it. Stepping out of your comfort zone is so important, and can take you to amazing places! Thank you for sharing this❤

  6. loved this post. i had a similar desire to help outside my comfort zone this past summer, and i ended up tutoring 3-5 year olds with down syndrome. what did i learn? patience patience patience and love. i’d never been around anyone with it before, and now that i was pregnant, i wanted to understand what it would be like if my son/daughter would be born with similar symptoms.

  7. Alzheimer’s is such a sad, sad disease. I can still remember when I was a kid, my great grandmother had it and my grandma used to have to spoon feed her and she’d just spit food out like a little kid and start yelling at everyone. I guess it left an impression in my mind even though I was too young to understand what was happening. Recently my dad told me that she actually hit on him in front of my mom (whose grandmother it was) because she didn’t remember who anybody was! I think what’s so horrible about it is that it strips away people’s personalities and memories and leaves them kind of bare inside. Any who, great post! I am all about getting out of my comfort zone too, and want to find somewhere new to volunteer at soon!

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