As I sat in the plane flying back to our boat, I thought back on the last five days. Five days spent at the Homestead with my youngest daughter and son-in-law prepping for my first grandchild. It had been a great visit, as they always are. I reviewed the time, much like a shell collector, sorting the best, turning them to see each facet and marvel at their beauty, rejecting the damaged or incomplete. Classifying memories.
It occurred to me how universal this process is. Probably each individual on the plane was going through the same process in some manner. Maybe some were prepping business reports highlighting accomplishments, maybe some were quicker to discard, less likely to analyze thoroughly. But at some level there was or would be a recap.
As I looked at the best moments of my visit, I saw that they were centered on time with my immediate family. The time spent exercising with my two daughters, the laughter, the camaraderie, and the memory of previous sessions. The moment I saw my son-in-law, beaming with happiness. The tender moment of seeing mother and father marveling at the baby’s foot through mother’s stomach. Seeing my oldest daughter totally self-assured, beautifully turned-out, placidly supportive and in charge as needed. Fondling these memories was like fondling prayer beads.
I have returned to these recent memories several times in the re-telling of my trip. In the middle of the night when I become anxious about the weather or missing the birth. When I worry that I am not seeing enough of my other children, I find myself returning to these positive memories and fingering them just like a devout fondles and reviews their prayer beads.
These memories frame who I am, what I value, and how I will one day respond if my memories are washed away by the tide of dementia.
With dementia, I may have no memory of my children’s names, but I will marvel at their pictures in a scrapbook. I will always marvel at a pregnant woman. I will be positively influenced by a self-assured, placidly supportive and in-charge woman. I will gravitate to the artistic beaming face as familiar. I will feel a certain awe in the presence of youthful joy and enthusiasm.
In dementia, I would prefer that my caretakers know my values, my preferences. I would prefer that my care is not a random shotgun approach to determine what defines and moves me.
How can we as caregivers best capture the essence of an individual? A simple biography is a start. But how do we zoom in beyond ”values family”, “has two daughters and a son”?
A good starting point is to look within. Take a moment and ask what memories best frame your essence. What are your precious shells? What are the prayer beads that get you through anxious and difficult situations? Savor these.
Meanwhile collect more shells and show them to those you love.