Five journals, spiral-bound, sit in my writing studio. Their pages, bowed from cargo storage on flights from Florida to Pennsylvania, contain snatches of conversation from the last nine years of Aunt Ruthie’s life. Since 2008, she has had to cope with a pacemaker implant, pneumonia, a broken hip, and most significantly – memory loss. Through it all, she has shown me how to age with fortitude and grace.
Recognizing Memory Loss and Limitations
Just before her 90th birthday, Aunt Ruthie underwent a pacemaker implant followed by patchy pneumonia. After the party, I became her nurse for several weeks.
Saturday, August 9, 2008, Ruthie, probably fed up with solicitations brought on by recent pacemaker installation followed by pneumonia, yelled at me “Get out!”
Three days later on August 12 as I left her home for the airport, she remarked: “You have been a wonderful nurse.” My ministrations had been tiring, especially when her dog Fritzie, maybe fearing I would be a fixture in the house competing with his mistress, sank a fang deep into my thumb flesh. Blood spurted out, I screamed, but the deed was done. I carried the black and blue thumbnail scar for over a year.
January 2010 – “I’m learning a new life.” As her hip heals, I stitch back the arm on Fritzie’s teddy bear toy.
May 2010 – “Sometimes I feel as though I must guard against a mental relapse.” And then, “Am I ‘out of it’?”
For several years now she has written faithfully in the blocks of her “calendar” journal each day. I sneak a look at the observations in the numbered squares. She remarks about
- My cute shoes
- Irritations at trash thrown from cars near the curb on her lawn
- Fritzie’s farts
- Need to remember to take her Bible to church
- Wishing she could work in the garden that has now been turned to grass.
- Asking me to take her to Weaver Fabric shop for hairpins to use with her prayer covering.
She registers disappointment with a “Boo Hoo” – I can’t mow my lawn anymore!
“I feel like a monkey on a stick.”
February 2011, a Lament: “I took care of my grandfather, my mother, and now me. Now I have to be taken care of. O my [heavy sigh]. Later, “This is the hardest part – Being waited on! All my life I helped other people. Now I have to be waited on!”
January 2012 “I don’t trust myself to say the right answer. I’ve had some strokes, and they’ve affected me.”
August 2014 “What I miss most is work – something to do that means something. I’m out of my routine.”
“This is a place you forget all about time. If you gave me a thousand dollars, I couldn’t tell you what time it is. Time goes on like a wheel going around.”
November 2014 Viewing video of her 16 mm camera shots from the 1950s, “These pictures make my mind come alive.”
February 2016 Observing an aide’s tattoos of orange and gold: “You are wearing autumn on your arm.”
February 2017 Without hesitation, she can read all the words on this placard. We are thrilled she can remember all of our names, “Marian, Janice, and Jean,” she recites with a smile.
January 2012 “I’m glad I’m active. If you had to sit around and suck your thumb, it wouldn’t be interesting.”
February 2016 “I don’t want to act like I’m a helpless elephant.”
Later, to an aide: “You can take my blood pressure, but don’t take it with you.” – ha-ha!
November 2016 She was not interested in an activity she was invited to at the home. However, once she found out they were baking cookies, she said, “Well, what are you waiting for. Let’s go!”
May 2010 – For years she has volunteered to play the piano at Rheems Nursing Home before the residents’ lunch, “They are poor souls,” she says. “They probably wouldn’t recognize if I repeat songs.”
January 2010 – Before surgery to repair broken hip, she inquired about burial plots” “If there is not enough space for a casket, I’ll volunteer to be cremated,” she remarked in pre-op. Actually, there is a tombstone with her name and birthdate waiting for her in Bossler Mennonite cemetery since 1946, when her father died.
Earlier on the gurney, she had inquired about suffering Haitians she had heard about in the news.
February 2017 Forgetting she no longer carries a wallet or purse, she remarks, “I’m always glad to help those who can’t make it on their own.”
January 2010 When a member from Bossler Mennonite asked Ruthie how church members should pray before her hip surgery: Her response: “That the almighty God would be glorified and that His will be done and that I would take this gracefully.”
January 2012 Brother Mark, her caregiver at the time, had neck surgery. After he returned home, Ruthie’s prayer for grace at lunch, “Heavenly Father, thank you for the sunshine and sunshine on Mark’s neck and thank you Marian is here with me until she has to take her suitcase and go home. In Jesus name, Amen!”
Earlier I overheard her joking over the phone with Mark in the hospital, “So basically you’re a pain in the neck – ha ha ha ha!”
My observation January 2012: The best qualifications for taking care of someone with memory loss: be kind, have a low IQ, and not be related to the patient.
From your observation or experience, what do you think about care-taking those with memory loss? Other observations?
Day or night, the light is always on here. Thank you for joining the conversation.