Phyl has dementia. She was diagnosed about eight years ago. She was a good friend of my parents, and my boss at one of my first jobs. She and her husband came to visit my mother and father regularly, through all the illnesses of their old age. I was always grateful for their visits. So now, I go to visit Phyl.
I’m not sure Phyl knew me this time, even though I have known her since I was fifteen—although she did ask me how my mother was doing. The first time she asked, I told her that mom had passed away a few years ago. When she asked a second and third time, I just said that she was “fine.” I think she had a vague sense of who I was but couldn’t remember my name. She kept referring to my boyfriend as “young fella.”
I took Phyl a box of chocolates. I’ve always felt that if I get old and don’t remember much, I’ll still know that the taste of chocolate is a really good thing. Mom had Alzheimer’s Disease and she could still appreciate a good, gooey treat.
Phyl is in a dementia wing, full of other people who are in a similar state. Nothing could have depressed me more on that gray, drizzly day than being in a room full of people with dementia. The activities leader was reading anecdotes, jokes and fun facts. She mentioned Brazil in one of those facts. I asked Phyl if she had been to Brazil, because I knew that she had. Phyl has visited more countries than any other person I know. She said “yes,” in answer to my question, but I don’t think she recalled anything more about it. She and her husband had the most amazing adventures, and I’m a bit sad that she doesn’t seem to remember much about them.
Phyl’s mind is back in a small town in Canada, where she grew up. She says she sees her mom and dad, and her sisters. She used to talk about her husband, but not anymore. She has regressed in time. I was sad and hollow when I left the facility. I wondered if I would go visit Phyl again. I knew she’d forget that she’d had a visitor the minute I walked out the door.
And then I chastised myself for thinking that any of this was about me. Phyl was and is an incredibly kind person. She and her husband once owned a nursing home, and she treated each patient as if they were family. I hope that after dinner, she went back to her room and found that box of chocolates. As she wondered where they came from, I hope that she savored every bite and had a moment of happiness. I know that I’ll go and take her another treat soon, not because it makes me feel good—-but because Phyl so deserves it. She deserves much more, but this is what I know how to give.