Three years ago, my client Charlotte was placed in a nursing home, leaving me with too much free time on my hands. My husband and I recently leased a car and I was in need of a job. Insert Mary Alice. Her daughter Julie and I went to school together and had become friends via Facebook, when I posted a picture of the new car with the caption, “All I need is a little old lady to help pay for it”. Little did I know, Julie would call and ask for an interview.
Three years later, Mary Alice and I are the best of friends, even though she doesn’t remember me the moment I exit the room.
When I first began working for her family, she and I would have marvelous conversations about God and how much she missed driving. Today, she doesn’t remember how to buckle her seat belt, let alone open the passenger side door. Though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. During one of our outings, she released her seat belt and began to exit my car while we were making a left-hand turn onto a busy street. Perhaps scaring me half to death was the impetus to forget that skill.
But when we are together, I try my best to make the day fun for her. We never watch television together, primarily because due to macular degeneration, she cannot see the TV or follow along. So instead we make up games to play. Sometimes I use a large plastic ball to pass back and forth between us encouraging her to help count each time we catch the ball. Funny thing is whenever we get to around 79 then next number in her memory always comes up as 90. Other times I pull out old blocks, left from when my children were small and have her help me put them in size and color order. We practice carrying them around the kitchen too, in order to find the best surface to build upon. One day we cleared off her kitchen table and played matchbox derby with her great grand children’s cars. When her daughter came in and saw the commotion, she laughed. “I didn’t realize mom liked this.”
Three years ago, Mary Alice and I would go for walks around the neighborhood which amounted to almost a mile in length. Little has changed since then. However, our strolls are considerably less in mileage, but the conversation has changed little over the years. We tend to sing 1940’s era songs (badly) or recite nursery rhymes, anything I can do to help access her rote memory–even if only for a few moments.
The best part of hanging out with Mary Alice, for me, has been the realization of how patient I really can be though my kids may beg to differ. Someone once asked me how I do this job without getting frustrated. For me, the answer is simple. Respect and Love. I was raised to respect my elders regardless of who they are. Showing kindness isn’t difficult when you respect someone. Also, I love hanging out with Mary Alice. I love when we play cards-War or Match game. I love when we host the Rosary hour, listening to the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet and St Michael the Archangel chaplet, via YouTube each afternoon. I love that Mary Alice’s demeanor hasn’t been affected by this disease. She’s still the nice, ever helpful person she always was in the past. What’s more, when Mary Alice sees me, even if she’s not sure who the heck I am, she’s always happy to meet me, again. I love that we make each other giggle–something as necessary as air for our lungs each and every day.
In the last three years, many things have changed between us. One thing that hasn’t changed is the realization of how blessed I really am. My life is indeed richer for having come to know, play and enjoy Mary Alice’s company over the years.