For the first time yesterday I saw Lucy’s eyes. They looked like almonds and danced with excitement when she gazed upon me to tell me that she was hungry. I met Lucy over four months ago at the nursing facility that cares for my mother, who is living with severe dementia. Like the previous two facilities my mother lived in, I have established relationships with the fellow residents and Lucy is no different. My mom and Lucy sit at the same table for meals. Without fail for the past four months Lucy would always be asleep in her chair as her meal sat in front of her. To my surprise and delight when I feed my mother lunch yesterday Lucy raised her head and looked at me for the first time. Seeing her awake, alert and eager to have a conversation warmed my heart.
Most of my conversations with the residents tickle me. There’s Elliot who asks me every visit if I know who he is, where I live and if I am married. We have what I call a Ground Hog Day dialogue. He tells me he used to play for the Washington Redskins, but now he plays for the Minnesota Vikings; that he has 18 planes and 600 children. Before we part ways he always asks me to leave my contact information in his room so we can plan our wedding.
Juana is a petite Hispanic woman, who has dozens of relatives that visit her on a regular basis, but when she sees me she is convinced I am her daughter. As I stand at 5 feet 9 inches tall I am not sure how she thinks that since I have at least 5 inches on all of her family members. She speaks no English and when it comes to Spanish I speak un poquito. So I try my best to give her the attention she is seeking even though there are moments when she tries to keep me from spending time with my own mother.
There’s the resident racist who blows my mind every time I encounter her. The staff is primarily non-Caucasian. This does not sit well with her. She will tell the staff,
I am White – you can’t touch me. You’re Black and you better not touch me.
She spends most of the time in her room, which is near the entryway so there usually is no avoiding her upon arriving or leaving. A few days ago I witnessed her engrossed in listening to the radio. The Michael Baisden Show was playing and the topic of conversation was about Black people being accused of sounding White. How ironic. Not only was she listening to an urban/R&B station, but the topic of conversation was so contradictory to her beliefs. All I could do was chuckle.
I could go on and on and talk about the remaining cast of characters that make up my mother’s community. I won’t do that at this time, but what I will say is that each and every one of them is a mirror image of you and me. Their current state could easily be our fate. They all had vibrant, full lives before the disease of Alzheimer’s paid them a visit. In their earlier lives they were lawyers, doctors, judges, musicians, educators, politicians, decorated Veterans, homemakers, etc…. Now their failing minds leave them confused or vacant. They crave attention and want their voices to be heard, even when they do not know show to express themselves like they used to.
Seeing Lucy’s eyes and hearing her voice for the first time truly was magical for me because she gave me the opportunity to see that she is still here and still wants to be heard. Even if I never get that exchange with her again, I am blessed to have experienced it to remind me that we all matter – we are all part of a community that needs to recognize one another and take care of each other. Even little Miss “I’m White, You’re Not and You Can’t Touch Me.”