I recently got a job as a companion for an elderly woman who battles Alzheimer's among a couple other debilitating diseases. I get to spend a several hours with her five nights a week and it's taught me a lot already. This might be the hardest job I've had so far. It makes my heart hurt.
There are many nights my heart aches for the sweet lady I spend time with. She used to be a professor who taught English and History and she invested so much of her life in the students she taught. She's even had a dorm named after her at a local university. She married her high-school sweetheart and although she no longer knows how long she's been married, she's still crazy about him. You ask her about her husband and a squinty-eyed smile breaks across her face. She never had any children, but she loves her family and constantly asks where her sister Mary and her 3 younger brothers are.
She lives in an Alzheimer's unit in a nursing home now and spends a lot of time napping and walking laps around her hall. I help her eat dinner and then we find things to do before she heads to bed. Some of my nights with her are great, other nights are a real struggle, but most nights are a mix of both. I love hearing about her life yet it kills me to watch her really struggle to find the words she wants to say. She knows what she wants to say, yet most times jumbled fragments and made up words come out and she's left frustrated. There are other times when I'll ask her questions and she looks straight past me and doesn't respond, as if I'm not even there.
Alzheimer's is taking a firm hold on her ability to function. Sometimes it brings out the angry side of her and she'll snap at me and five seconds later she's fine and is apologizing to me. After the first couple evenings I spent with her, I grieved for her. I can't imagine what it must be like to suffer from Alzheimer's and to live in a constant state of confusion. I grieved because I looked at her and saw how profound an impact her life has had, and now she sits in a nursing home and sleeps much of her days away. I grieved because she's not allowed to visit her husband who also lives in the nursing home for various reasons.
One night after she had been laying in bed for a few minutes she started to doze off then reached out her hand to take what she thought was her husband's hand beside her and then she realized that no one was there. That night made me cry. As I drove home I prayed for her and starting asking God why things like this happen. It was during that talk with God that He started showing me the beauty of her life, even now. While she may not be teaching in a university, she is teaching me and the nurses things every day. She brings joy. Other times interactions with her are times to work on having patience and learning what it means to really listen. I'm humbled that God has given me the opportunity to serve this woman who spent so much of her life serving those around her.
She is beautiful and God is using her daily, even if she doesn't realize it.